2017 Rose Parade: 8 questions for pediatric cancer survivor Jackie Garcia

December 7, 2016 | by Denise Heady

breakthroughs - jackie garcia Cancer survivor Jackie Garcia with her surgeons Robert Kang, M.D., M.P.H., and Ellie Maghami, M.D.

For the 45th year in a row, City of Hope will participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade. This year, seven patients will welcome 2017 atop City of Hope’s Rose Parade float. The float, themed "The Miracle of Science with Soul," adds a deeper dimension to the parade’s theme of “Echoes of Success.”

Jackie Garcia was only 10 years old when her mom noticed a lump in her jaw. Doctors initially thought it was a dental problem, but the lump turned out to be Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that mainly strikes children and adolescents but accounts for only about 1 percent of childhood cancers. In Jackie's case, it affected the entire right half of her jawbone, extending into the soft tissue around it. To avoid facial scars, City of Hope surgeons removed the tumor by making an incision in Jackie’s neck and rebuilt her jaw using a portion of her fibula, along with small blood vessels. The complex surgery was successful and now Jackie has her sights on becoming a surgeon herself when she grows up. “I want to be able to give back some of the love and comfort that my doctors gave me on so many occasions.”

Here, 14-year-old Jackie shares some of the wisdom she's gained during her treatment journey.

What would you tell other patients who have been recently diagnosed?

Even though knowing that you have cancer is scary, stay positive and never give up. You can win this fight!

What is one piece of practical advice you would give other patients?

I would have to say to surround yourself with things you love to do, like board games, your favorite movies and music. Stay active as much as you can to keep your mind off of your current situation.

What was your most pivotal emotional moment during treatment?

There were several moments through this journey that were very hard, but the worst was the day my family and I were told I had cancer. I remember being so scared. My family and I cried. It was just a horrible feeling.

Another time was during Christmas when my tumor grew and my doctors told us surgery was no longer an option. To see my parents afraid of the unknown was hard. Dr. Sato didn’t just stop there though. We started a new treatment plan and after a couple of weeks she came into our hospital room and said, “Your tumor shrank over 40 percent so surgery is back on the table.” Seeing relief on her face brought tears of joy to us and she let us go home after being in the hospital for 40 days. We hugged and cried so much — even my nurse was crying.

What was your most memorable encounter during treatment?

I love the holidays and City of Hope found a way to make every holiday special for me, whether I was an inpatient or outpatient. The annual Pediatric Pajama Party was a lot of fun. We received gifts and a nice meal with our family.

What family member or loved one did you rely on most  and how did he/she help?

My parents and siblings — especially my mom. She never left my side.

Which person at City of Hope had the biggest impact – and how did he/she help?

Wow, this is so hard because I was blessed with the best group of people.

Dr. Sato, Dr. Margarita, Dr. Kang and Dr. Maghami are the coolest and just so amazing. They were always there for me.

Nurses Molly, Lisa, Georgie, Ginger, Christine, Delpha and Bella have the most caring hearts and were so patient with me all of the time.

Jo Ann and Tiffany in the Child Life Group always checked in just to make sure I was OK with everything that was going on. They would comfort me when I was scared and kept me company early in the morning on surgery days.

What could a family member or loved one do to help a patient that they might not think of?

I think just being there for company, support and comfort is helpful. Also, be positive and encouraging to help the patient during hard times. I really enjoyed when my family would visit me.

Who do you feel you owe the most "thanks" for your successes?

First of all I thank God! I’m thankful City of Hope has the best doctors and staff. And I’m thankful for my pediatrician, Dr. Sugra, who chose City of Hope and would not take no for an answer.

Thank you Dr. Sato, Dr. Kang, Dr. Maghami and Dr. Vora. I was blessed to have you by my side through this battle. I cannot even express how grateful I am to have you as my doctors. You have inspired me to pursue a career as a surgeon. I want to be able to give back some of the love and comfort that you gave me on so many occasions. Each hug helped reassure me that I was never alone.

My family, friends and prayer warriors, this one is for you! Our faith moved mountains! Thank you for every prayer, every visit and the support you gave me and my family throughout this journey.

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For more information about City of Hope's float, visit the City of Hope Rose Parade site.

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Learn more about our unique patient experience. If you have been diagnosed with cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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