Girl, 9, beats cancer but wants 1 more Christmas at Ronald McDonald House
A "Happy Last Chemo" sign in the room that's been home for nearly half of 9-year-old Jazmin Alvarez's life is an affirmation of prayers answered for Carlos and Patricia Alvarez. After time after time being told there was no hope, Ronald McDonald House's longest-staying patient is going home.
Seattle Times staff reporter
"Happy last chemo, Jazzy!"
The little sign in the room that's been home for nearly half the 9-year-old's life is an affirmation of prayers answered for Carlos and Patricia Alvarez and their daughter, Jazmin.
After novenas and rosaries, nearly four years and six rounds of chemotherapy, and being told time after time there was no hope, Ronald McDonald House's longest-staying patient is going home cancer-free.
Jazmin has apparently beaten the rare Wilms' tumor, which attacks the kidneys in children 3 and younger.
But first, the little girl in the Hannah Montana shirt has one wish — to spend one more Christmas at the home where staff, other sick children and their parents have become part of her extended family.
"There are Christmas songs and jokes," she said, not to mention Santa and a beautiful tree and wonderful aromas from the communal kitchens downstairs.
Jazmin's memory of her first home in Toppenish is sketchy. She became ill at 3 and within a year, she and her parents became full-time residents of Seattle's Ronald McDonald House.
It's here she's grown up — having hair loss, Hickman catheters and chemotherapy in common with her friends. She's been going to school several hours a day at nearby Seattle Children's hospital.
She is known as "Jazzy" to many. She pops into one of the kitchens where her mother makes tamales, tortillas and sopas, scoots through the living room with its twinkling tree or bounces on the bed of the room she shares with her parents.
It's a room filled with pink girly indulgences — a Victorian doll house, CD players, pink electronic games, a pink purse and dolls. Friends and family have willingly indulged Jazmin because she's endured so much, says Patricia Alvarez.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard they were moving," said Kaarin Stowell, operations manager. "After they get settled, we'll have to find a way to get them back up here and keep them involved."
Jazmin was never supposed to spend so many years at Ronald McDonald House — the average stay is between two weeks and several months, say staff members. When she first became ill, her family was told to pack their bags for a one-week stay in Seattle while Jazmin had her first chemotherapy session.
That first chemotherapy "was a little disturbing," Jazmin said.
One week turned into eight months. The family went home, but six months later they were back again. She had relapsed.
The most effective therapies had failed. Pediatric oncologist/hematologist Dr. Blythe Thomson told the family there was nothing else that could be done, and advised taking Jazmin home to live out her remaining days. But Carlos and Patricia insisted there must be something else, another type of chemotherapy.
The family was so determined to try everything, they became routine residents at the house. Carlos left his job in Toppenish.
The third and fourth rounds of chemotherapy didn't have any better results. And by that time, tumors had invaded Jazmin's lungs and she had an allergic reaction to chemotherapy. She was frequently weak.
Nevertheless, at 7, she donned a long white dress trimmed in roses for her First Communion at Christ the King Catholic Church.
"Father told me I'll have to answer questions, but I'll do real good because I'm smart and pretty," Jazmin said.
As the family's life revolved around Jazmin's medical care, Carlos got work as a bricklayer in Auburn so he could still work and be close by. Once again, when he was told — after the fifth round of chemotherapy — that all treatment had been exhausted, he insisted there must be something else.
"I felt so alone," he said. "We prayed a lot. And we felt there must be something else to try."
The only thing left was participation in a nationwide study of the drug ixabepilone, most commonly used to treat breast cancer. Jazmin would be the 20th child enrolled in the study. The study closed last year after 19 children with cancer dropped out, with very few having responded to the drug, Thomson said. Eventually, Jazmin was the only child in the nation still on it.
When scans were done several months ago, the Alvarez family got the news the news it had prayed for: The drug was working.
"I don't know what it is," Thomson said, "but I'm not going to question it."
There is always the chance the cancer could come back. But for now, Jazmin has the chance "to go to school and be a normal little girl," Thomson said.
Last week, Jazmin and her friend Cesar Palacios, 7, rolled around the bed in her room, laughing.
"I'm not afraid of boy cooties," she said.
"Yes, you are," Cesar answered.
"Stop nagging me," she replied, jumping off the bed and scampering down the hall.
For now, Jazmin is excited about Christmas and hoping for a baby-blue computer. Her wish makes her father smile and roll his eyes, saying, "A baby-blue computer at 9."
For the first time, her parents are beginning to see moving to an apartment in Federal Way in January as a reality. Jazmin will have a room of her own, go to school, and have something she's never had before — a future.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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