For the 46th year in a row, City of Hope will participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade. This year, 10 patients will welcome 2018 atop City of Hope’s Rose Parade float. The float, themed "Transforming Lives with Hope" adds a deeper dimension to the parade’s theme of “Making a Difference.”
Here, we meet float rider Jackie Solano, a daughter, sister and marathon runner.
For sisters Jackie and Karla Solano, running is a family affair.
“We have always been close sisters,” said Karla. “We've had that relationship since we were kids. We started the running thing because my aunt, who passed away from leukemia, always wanted to do the L.A. Marathon but she never got to do it.
“We would talk about it and eventually we decided, you know what? Let's just sign up for it. Let's just go for it. We had no training. We really just went in blind and jumped right in and it was sink or swim.”
That first marathon they ran in tribute to their aunt was tough, but it was Jackie who made sure both she and Karla finished.
“Jackie helped me push through,” Karla recalled. “There was a point where I thought I was just gonna pass out. I literally just laid on the grass around mile 20 or 21. And I was just lying there like, ‘I can't. I can't do this.’
“But Jackie kept pushing me. She said, ‘No. We have to keep going. Let's get back to it.’”
Little did the Solano sisters know that a few years after crossing that first finish line together, it would be Jackie’s turn to rely on Karla for support.
A Tough Start
When Jackie found a lump in her breast, she searched the internet for information about what it could be. Convincing herself it was just a cyst, she tried to go on as if everything was normal. After all, she was young. She had no family history of breast cancer. She was healthy — so healthy, in fact, that she spent her free time running marathons. Cancer seemed implausible.
But the lump was becoming harder to ignore. During a race in Santa Monica, California, the chest straps on Jackie’s backpack rubbed against it. Even wearing her seatbelt had become uncomfortable.
After a few weeks, Jackie knew she had to seek medical attention. Fearing the worst, she told her parents about the lump and they accompanied her to urgent care the next day.
Two weeks later, the biopsy results were in and Jackie’s world changed forever.
“After we found out, when we were here at the house, it was just nothing but a crying fest,” said Karla. “We all just cried. We all hugged each other.”
As her family came to grips with the shocking diagnosis, Jackie sought solace in her own way.
“The day after she was diagnosed, Jackie went to Disneyland,” Karla remembered with a smile. “Of course, she had to go to Disneyland."
“My boyfriend and I were planning on going, and we already had the tickets for that day,” Jackie said. “It was Halloween time, which I love. I considered selling the tickets, but I thought, you know what? I want to go trick-or-treating. Let’s just go. Let’s do it.”
While Jackie clung to the comforting familiarity of Disneyland, Karla looked for spiritual guidance.
“I went to church,” she said. “I lost it while I was in there. And then, you know, I thought, OK, you need to pull yourself together. You need to do something.”
“My next thought was that there's a City of Hope out here, so that’s where I went. I met with a support group and talked to them. They helped me out a lot and they pointed me to the right direction. I got the new-patient registration forms that day and told my sister when she got back from Disney.”
Taking her big sister’s lead, Jackie began treatment at City of Hope and embarked on an aggressive treatment plan, which started with chemotherapy. She felt impact of the cancer drugs almost immediately.
“The week after chemo is when I lose taste buds,” Jackie lamented. “I know what I'm eating and I expect that taste from it, you know, but it tastes like nothing. I can't taste bacon. I can't taste anything salty, basically.
“The vomiting and feeling weak is hard. And now I’m dealing with hot flashes, too.”
Though chemo took a toll on Jackie, her years of running prepared her for the challenge of cancer treatment.
“In a way, running prepared me mentally for this process,” Jackie said. “I think I've been pretty strong mentally to handle a lot of it. I’m coming at it like I’m preparing for training for a race.”
But running had to take a backseat while she underwent treatments. Slowing down was tough for Jackie, but Karla felt the effects as well. For years, Jackie was her biggest motivator and cheerleader. With that gone, hitting the pavement for a run just wasn’t the same.
With both sisters in a running rut, there was only one thing that could reignite their desire to race again:
The Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland.
The race was to be held in January but after being diagnosed only a few months prior in October, questions about Jackie’s ability to participate swirled. Would she feel well enough to run? Would her doctor clear her? Could she cross the finish line?
Through sheer determination, the support of her family, friends and doctors, and the magic of Disney, Jackie made it to the race. Karla, of course, was right by her side.
“I was really nervous about it because I didn't do any kind of physical activity leading up to that race. So I was really out of shape; just completely out of shape. But I ran the first three miles, walked some and we used a wheelchair for some. But the last mile or so, we handed off the wheelchair and then we ran it in,” Jackie said happily.
Crossing the finish line felt good. For Karla, the moment held a new meaning.
“I’m not a big crier when I do races,” she said. “It's just more of a relief that I’m done. But now, I find myself getting more emotional whenever we cross the finish line together. I blame my sister for that.”
The next finish line for Jackie? Being declared cancer free. And when that day comes, there’s no doubt that the celebration will take place at the happiest place on earth.
Plastic surgeon Mark C. Tan, M.D., employs a pair of innovative microsurgeries that are showing great results in treating the symptoms of lymphedema, a common complication following breast (and other) cancer surgery.