A mother's determination and a daughter's gratitude are still touching lives years after their win over cancer
|When her mother, Concetta, beat leukemia at City of Hope, 6-year-old Giovanna Nocera decided to say "thank you" by sellinng HOPE bracelets to raise money for cancer research.|
"You don't understand. I am coming to City of Hope!"
Friends and family told her that exhaustion during pregnancy was normal. But Concetta Nocera knew this was different.
"I'd had a child before, and that wasn't anything like this," she remembers. "I had infections, I was worn down. It was awful.
"I told my husband, 'I'm serious. I think I'm dying.’"
But even after giving birth to her son Dominic in March 2003, Concetta's strength didn't return. That's when her doctors got worried.
Three months later, Concetta's doctors did a blood screening, including a bone marrow test.
That's when they discovered she had leukemia.
"When you hear you have cancer, your life just stops," Concetta says. "I spent a lot of time in prayer."
She also spent a lot of time on the Internet. And that's where she discovered City of Hope.
"I looked at the photo of Dr. Steven Forman on the City of Hope Web site, and I felt a real peace and comfort," she remembers. "Call it fate, call it the Holy Spirit or whatever you want, but I saw him and I knew: This is the man who is going to save my life."
That wasn't exactly the plan Concetta's doctors had in mind.
"Their idea was that I would do my initial chemo at another hospital here in L.A. and then go to City of Hope for my bone marrow transplant. But I said no. I told them I was going to do my entire treatment with Dr. Forman at City of Hope."
"Thank God for Dr. Forman"
"I called City of Hope and told them, 'I'm coming,'" Concetta says. "They said, 'Well, there's a bit of a wait to get into the BMT program.'
"'You don't understand,' I told them. 'I am coming to City of Hope.’" Concetta laughs at the memory now, but it's clear she was deadly serious at the time.
"Finally, they went and talked to Dr. Forman, and he agreed to take me on as a patient."
Not long afterward, Concetta began her chemotherapy treatment under Dr. Forman's supervision. About two months later, she was in remission, and it was time for her bone marrow transplant.
"Thank God for Dr. Forman. He arranged it so my infant son could visit me while I was in isolation. We all got scrubbed up and dressed in the special clothes. I think all my son could see was my eyes, but he knew it was me.
"It was so important for me to have that time with my son, and Dr. Forman made that possible."
"It's the perfect name"
"When my daughter Giovanna visited me, she decided to make a bead bracelet to thank Dr. Forman," Concetta remembers. "We added the letters H-O-P-E in beads to represent City of Hope.
"That hope kept me alive," she explains. "They don't just care for your body. They care for your spirit, just like it says on that gate."
The Golter Gate, in the rose garden on City of Hope's Duarte campus, bears the words of Dr. Samuel H. Golter, executive director of City of Hope for more than 25 years: "There is no profit in curing the body, if in the process, we destroy the soul."
"City of Hope is the perfect name," Concetta says. "That's really what it is."
After making her bracelet for Dr. Forman, Giovanna decided to make more. She would sell them to raise money for City of Hope, to thank everyone who helped save her mother's life.
"Giovanna told her friends at school about City of Hope, and they all wanted to help out and buy bracelets," Concetta says. "We ended up handing Dr. Forman a check for about $135."
Today, more than three years after her diagnosis, Concetta is doing well. She still struggles with graft-versus-host disease, a common side effect of BMT, but her spirits remain high. And Giovanna is staying busy too.
"Dr. Forman asked us to sell HOPE Bracelets at City of Hope's Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion a few weeks ago," Concetta says. "Don't tell him, but we're going to give him a check for $320!"
"That's pretty amazing for a 6-year-old!"
City of Hope was a pioneer in bone marrow transplantation, thanks to visionary supporters like you. In the last 31 years, we have performed more than 8,000 bone marrow and stem cell transplants, making us one of the largest and most successful BMT programs in the world.
Thank you for doing so much to help end cancer.