For the past 60 years, Yazmin Enriquez Marin has called many places home — in Mexico City and its outskirts, and numerous neighborhoods and towns within the U.S. For several years as a child, home was a hospital room at City of Hope. And in many ways, this is the home that has had the greatest impact on her life.
Born deaf in Mexico City in 1955, Marin developed debilitating health problems when she was a preteen. Doctors removed a tumor on her left rib when they resected a mass from her chest wall. But when it recurred, they performed a second surgery and soon delivered the devastating news: Marin had cancer.
Her parents were advised that treatment would be futile and drain the family’s limited resources. But Marin’s mother, Rosa, refused to give up. Lacking transportation, she walked the 25-mile journey from Ixtapaluca to Mexico City, in desperate pursuit of any medical help she could find.
Help is found at City of Hope
After sharing her story with Maria Moreno, a writer for the Spanish-American magazine, Ideas, Marin's mother was connected to a Los Angeles Times reporter who was familiar with City of Hope. Under the pretext of fulfilling a dying child’s wish to go to Disneyland, Marin's mother brought her and her younger brother, Luis, into the U.S., and the reporter helped Marin become a patient at City of Hope.
“My mother told me I had to stay in the hospital and that I had an illness, but I still didn’t know why,” Marin said. “After they found another tumor, the doctors ordered a biopsy. I had two surgeries in the same day, and I felt sick and unhappy because I needed to know what kind of illness I had, and my parents weren’t very clear.”
Marin spent the next two years undergoing extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in a battle against reticulum cell sarcoma — an incredibly rare and dangerous type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, now known as histiocytic lymphoma. While she was hospitalized, Marin's mother and brother stayed in Cottage 13 at Hope Village, where teachers and City of Hope social workers supported her brother’s education.
Although it was a very challenging time, Marin has fond memories of those who cared for her. “Dr. Rosen was wonderful and affectionate, and he always showed his smile to me. I loved the nurses too,” she said. “I loved to watch the fountain lights at nighttime, when I lay on the bed with the window open. It was special to me. I enjoyed learning arts and crafts, and I never missed the Christmas events. They had a tutor to teach the children and shelves full of children’s books. I learned and improved my English. I’m grateful that City of Hope provided the education program.”
Although Marin was cleared of cancer, it came with a cost. “The doctor told me I may not have children (after an ovary was removed during treatment), and I was sad,” she said. “But I accepted my new health and I was glad.”
A Family Reunites and Gives Back
When Marin left the hospital, her father, Luis, and sisters, Paz and Gaby, joined the family in the U.S. And eventually, they all became U.S. citizens.
Inspired by the work of the City of Hope staff, Marin and all of her siblings pursued “helping” professions. Paz became a licensed vocational nurse, while Gaby found her calling as a special education teacher. And Luis Jr. became a head of emergency trauma nursing at L.A. County USC Trauma Center. Featured in the 2013 documentary “Code Black,” Luis Jr. was the inspiration for a character in the spinoff CBS medical drama series of the same name, and he currently advises producers of the show.
“My brother was impacted because he stayed at City of Hope while I was in the hospital, and he spent lot of time with a security guard named Robert, talking about how sad he was about my illness and how he wanted to become a doctor,” Marin explained. She added that Paz’s interest in nursing largely was influenced by volunteer work that she did at City of Hope as a teenager. “She translated between Spanish and English for the children and their parents with nurses and doctors – and she learned a lot,” Marin said.
For her part, Marin attended Gallaudet University, where she learned sign language, lip-reading, and reading and writing in both English and Spanish. She has worked in education for many years, teaching English as a Second Language to deaf adults at schools in Los Angeles and La Puente, and advocating for the deaf community.
The Connection to City of Hope Continues
Marin described how City of Hope has been a great source of support to her through the years. During a follow-up visit in 1986, she received hormone therapy after explaining to a doctor that she had not menstruated since age 16 and was trying to conceive. Before long, a return visit for abdominal pain brought some happy news. “The doctor checked my abdomen, referred to the ultrasound, and said, ‘Congratulations, you have a baby and it is 4 months old.’ It shocked me, and I cried lot. I always thought I couldn’t get pregnant.” On March 13, 1987, Marin gave birth to her daughter.
Nearly 30 years later, while living in Maryland, Marin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, possibly a result of the radiation she received as a child. Once again, she returned to City of Hope, where she received chemotherapy and a single mastectomy from Courtney A. Vito, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology.
"Dr. Vito gave me a Hope bracelet to wear during my treatment,” Marin said. “It was to remind me of the previous patients that had had great results. This bracelet filled me with hope and strength every day. I thank Dr. Vito for little details like this that helped me during my toughest days."
Now a grandmother, Marin has been healed once again, nearly 50 years after she originally set foot on City of Hope’s campus. She credits her extended family for having walked the same sidewalks with her in a multigenerational display of support. Although it was an emotional time for everyone, she is grateful to have a new chapter and a renewed sense of hope.
Marin also feels deep gratitude for the role that City of Hope repeatedly has played in the course of her life. “I am a cancer survivor!” she exclaimed. “City of Hope has amazing medicine and support. I am forever grateful for the compassion and respect we all were shown. I have many memories of when I was a girl, how the doctors and nurses were like my family.”
Vito said she feels honored to have been a part of Marin’s journey. “To know the Enriquez family is to know a love, a warmth and a fighting spirit that is incredibly rare to find,” she said. “I have never been prouder to be a part of City of Hope than when I learned how wonderfully and dramatically our organization impacted this family.
“And then to see how each member of this family has brought forth that hope into the lives of countless others through their professions," Vito continued. "Yazmin, Luis, Paz, Gaby and their parents live our values every day of their lives, and I am honored to know that the love, care and expertise of City of Hope has made that possible.”
City of Hope's Larry W. Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., is building on a vaccine he pioneered for the treatment of lymphoma. The DNA-based delivery system has already been allowed by the FDA, which could shave about a year off of development time.