The Best Part
Best Christmas Gift Ever! This was the caption that my then 30 year old friend Victoria gave to the photo announcing the birth of her and her husband Hector’s son Mateo last Christmas. Calling him her best gift said a lot, because Victoria had been blessed. Married only a couple years earlier, other pictures showed her laughing with her husband and bridesmaids, breaking ground with Hector on a soon-to-be-built home, and standing in a Pinterest worthy elementary school classroom. All of the things we aspire to achieve in life seemed to be attained with that announcement—loving marriage, fulfilling career, and new mom—Victoria was in the best part of her life
But when she returned to school in August, she wasn’t feeling like herself. She began having back pains and stomach aches. Several people in her family had a stomach virus, and teachers are exposed to a lot of germs. It’s just a stomach bug
doctors thought. However, the pain didn’t go away, and later Victoria returned. It’s a kidney infection
doctors thought. Antibiotics can clear this up
they said. Don’t worry
. And why should she? She was young, healthy, and had delivered her son only months before. Victoria was in the best part of her life.
Still, the pain continued to get worse. Soon, Victoria found herself taking 6 Aleve a day to get through her schedule and push away the discomfort enough to teach her students. Not long after, she started realizing that although she could eat a small breakfast or lunch, by dinner each night, she told Hector she felt too bad to feed herself after feeding Mateo. Strong, Victoria pushed on, sharing stories about students and about Mateo in the afternoon once we were done dismissing our classes. The pain was invisible because Victoria was not complaining. Instead she had faith, during this best time of her life.
Finally, this December, Victoria’s path changed forever, as the pain became too much and Hector drove her to the emergency room. Victoria was hoping for some antibiotics, maybe even some pain medication. Instead, the radiologist in the ER said words that altered Victoria’s life. This is the biggest mass I have seen.
Unable to fully process what was happening, during what was supposed to be the best time of her life, she was taken by ambulance to a second hospital where she was soon diagnosed with Stage IV Cholangiocarcinoma, also known as Bile Duct Cancer. The Biggest Fight of Her Life
A rare, aggressive carcinoma, bile duct cancer is typically found in males over 70 years old. Since Victoria is young, healthy, and does not have other risk factors, there is little data on why this developed within her body and her prognosis has thus far been described as unknown, with doctors taking things week by week. Presenting itself in an especially aggressive format within her system (when discovered, the tumor was larger than her entire liver and growing 1 gram per day), Victoria is not a candidate for surgery or radiation at this time and has instead started intense chemotherapy that did not even allow her to leave the hospital for Mateo’s first birthday.
However, the chemotherapy is not the only fight Victoria is facing. There have been days where is seems like her entire body is conspiring against her. One night during her second week in the hospital, Victoria’s heart rate went up to 250 beats per minute, causing her to be rushed into ICU for some time. A stint, which was put in place to enable her body to properly move bile, caused her tremendous pain and led to her contracting pancreatitis, which required her chemotherapy to halt until she was able to heal. During the first night of a separate 72 hour chemotherapy treatment, she developed a rash, causing them to pause the medication once again. The large size of her tumor has created pressure on Victoria’s lungs, leading her to contract pneumonia since her diagnosis. Throughout this all, pictures still show Victoria alongside her family smiling. While the path in her life has changed from a stroll to a fight, Victoria has dedicated herself to making the best of what she has been dealt.
To say this has taken a toll on her family and on Victoria is an understatement. One year ago they would have never imagined they would be in this position. Her husband and mother have made sure that she has not spent a single night in the hospital alone in the past 6 weeks. The oncology unit does not allow visitors under the age of 12, so when Victoria wants time with her son, she has to go to a special family visiting area. Victoria has rarely spoken her fears, but she doesn’t have to. Anyone who is a mother can already imagine the thoughts that undoubtedly go through her mind and know her motivation as she fights this so bravely. Be the Best Part of This Fight
Sometimes our biggest challenges reveal our biggest strengths. Victoria’s life has changed, but she is still blessed in many ways. She is blessed with her family, her friends, her doctors, and her faith. I’m asking each of you to go from observing the best parts of Victoria’s life, to standing beside her and becoming the best part of her fight. We can lift her, Hector, and Mateo up in this time. We can share our resources as they try to face this battle. We can remind them that they do not face it alone.
As you can imagine, Victoria’s medical bills are accumulating quickly. She has been hospitalized almost everyday since the end of November. She has seen oncologists, cardiologists, and had more tests and medications administered than I could list in one page. Despite all of this, her family needs to not only continue treatment, but to also investigate all of their options.
Since Cholangiocarcinoma is rare, even more so in someone of Victoria’s age, her oncologist does not have all of the answers that she and her family are seeking. They would like to be able to afford to consult with other doctors, perhaps who have seen cases such as hers, in order to make sure that the treatment plan they follow provides her the best opportunity to continue to be here as Mateo grows. They have also been offered participation in a promising test at Harvard that can analyze her cancer’s DNA in order to determine which type of chemotherapy will be most effective. This is especially important in Victoria’s case as her tumor is growing rapidly, so every day counts. However, this testing and treatment is expensive, and must be paid for upfront. We can be the best part of this fight. We cannot take this fight from Victoria, but we can help her find the right weapons to win.
Victoria was at first hesitant to share this because she did not want others to feel afraid for her future but sometimes we all face things that are too big to face alone. If you are able to donate, thank you in advance. Even if you are not, I’m asking you to please share this on your Facebook, your Twitter, to your best friend, to all the moms you know with little boys, and to all the teachers who work so hard but may not always have the financial resources they deserve. She is one of the best parts of so many people’s lives. Let’s work together to become the best part of her fight.