JUICE FOR JANICE
On April 29th, Janice Dorado (who many of you know as Jan) was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (a.k.a. AML/bone marrow cancer).
Just 6 weeks prior, Janice, Ben (her husband), and Jen (her daughter) returned home to Honolulu from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to China and Taiwan. While both Janice and Ben battled illnesses throughout the trip, none of them could have foreseen what they were returning home to.
Still suffering from the eye infection that developed on their trip, Janice went to the doctor upon their return home and was diagnosed with a major case of conjunctivitis in both eyes. Even with treatment, it still took a month for her to recover. Being the responsible person she is, Janice decided to get her routine blood work done just ahead of schedule to make sure everything checked out okay.
But, when Janice’s blood test results came back, the doctor ordered Janice to go straight to the ER to get more blood tests done, and ultimately a bone marrow biopsy. Just 7 days later, with Ben by her side, Janice received the AML diagnosis.
Later that day, Janice and Ben shared the blindsiding news with Jen and a few close family members at Janice’s sister’s house. In typical Janice fashion, she exuded bravery and positivity...but she couldn’t help but ask “why.”
As you can imagine, the cancer diagnosis left the family in shock -- followed quickly by anger and sadness. Ben, who has always worked to make sure Janice had the best life possible, was devastated. He just couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to a happy and loving person who always puts others before herself. The pain from hearing this news still resonates with him.
Immediately, Janice’s, Ben’s, and Jen’s lives changed.
Life Before Cancer
In the year prior to Janice’s diagnosis, Janice and her family lived full, busy lives. Janice spent her time caring for her ailing parents and enjoyed working at a jewelry kiosk in NEX Honolulu where she spread her love and passion for gems and jewelry to passers by. Ben dedicated his time to taking care of family and keeping up a regular routine of golf games. They worked on projects together around the house and spent time with family and friends. Life, for the most part, was carefree.
Jen, who had opened and helped launch a bar in Las Vegas made the decision to move back to Mililani, Hawaii in November 2018 to help care for her grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, and her grandmother, who suffered from sciatica. Just a month later, while Jen and her cousin were on the night shift at her grandfather’s nursing home, he peacefully passed away. After her grandfather’s passing, Jen turned her focus to help care for her grandmother and build her presence in the bar community in Hawaii. She took on a job as a bartender and occasionally participated in cocktail workshops and competitions.
While this period brought some twists and turns, neither Janice, Ben nor Jen could have been prepared for what has turned out to be life’s biggest transition yet.
The Battle Begins
Janice, while still in shock and distressed, was ready to tackle cancer right away. Three days after her diagnosis, she checked into the hospital for 30 days to undergo aggressive chemotherapy.
Janice was confined to a hospital bed as she underwent a rigorous chemotherapy regimen, blood transfusions, and acute observation. At first, the daily - sometimes hourly - injections/drawings were tolerable, but the constant poking and prodding soon became tiresome. Progressively, she experienced nausea, diarrhea, chills, and loss of appetite, but she found ways to be true to herself. She maintained a regular soap opera schedule (in both English and Chinese), joked with nurses, and she picked up an old hobby of trying to set Jen up on dates! She also really enjoyed the constant stream of family and friends that visited her; both Ben and Jen noticed a palpable uptick in her strength and positivity when her loved ones were around. While Janice retained a positive attitude throughout her treatment, coping with the reality of her diagnosis was a daily struggle and her energy oscillated as the medication cycled through her body.
About a week into Janice’s treatment, family and friends began noticing large chunks of her hair falling out. After a week of trying to pick up every hair that had fallen on the bed, Janice decided that shaving her head would be the most convenient option. Jen, who had never used clippers before, was up for the task. Janice had changed her look several times over the years, so her family was confident she could pull it off… as you can see from the photo, she definitely rocks it!
Ben visited the hospital everyday to be by Janice’s side, except when Jen made him take a break. Ben and Jen tag-teamed to make sure they met every one of Janice’s needs. When Janice got tired of the hospital food, which happened pretty quickly, Ben, Jen and Janice’s close friends brought her the meal she was craving - often times, Chinese food. Soon enough, however, Janice’s love for her favorite foods wavered because the medications changed her taste buds.
Jen also began working another part-time job to help out with the expenses. And every night, Ben and Jen worked together to make sure at least one of them was there to kiss Janice good night and give her an essential oil rubdown - a routine that has grown to provide Janice with comfort and relief.
The family knew these changes were only the beginning. In addition to the day-to-day adjustments, their finances were turned upside down. The cost of hospital stays and medications were climbing quickly; Medicare only covers a fraction of what is due. And they knew their expenses would only continue to rise, as Janice would need a crucial stem cell transplant, a procedure not available in Hawaii.
San Francisco Bound
After a second round of aggressive chemotherapy - again fighting through the fatigue, nausea and exhaustion - Janice was ready to begin the next phase in her treatment, the stem cell transplant in San Francisco.
After several tests, it was decided that Jen would be the best stem cell match for Janice, a feat that Jen was ecstatic to take on. She knew, even as she mailed her blood samples to the lab, that she was going to be a match. It was meant to be.
So, in late July, the family went to San Francisco to prepare for the stem cell transplant at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center. The doctors had scheduled every step of the process ahead of time - from blood work and physicals to the donation to the transplant.
On the plane ride there, however, Jen started feeling excruciating pain and swelling in her face. After an unexpected visit to the dentist upon arrival, Jen had to have an emergency root canal. Without insurance, Jen, with her family’s help and without any notice, had to pay $3,000 for this procedure out of pocket. Because her body was fighting off the infection in her tooth, the donor schedule was almost pushed back, but Jen fought through the pain and pressure in her face and head to ensure Janice got the treatment she needed. She then received 4 days of Neupagen shots, hormone injections to make her bone marrow produce an exponential amount of stem cells. The shots left Jen’s body aching and her head cloudy.
Juice for Janice
When the doctors felt comfortable to proceed, Janice was admitted to UCSF. Her first step was to undergo more chemotherapy and radiation to prepare her body for transplant. Janice settled into the hospital well - chatting and joking around with the nurses and familiarizing herself with the schedule on the Hallmark channel.
Then, on August 5, 2019, Jen underwent the stem cell collection procedure. What she thought would be a few hours procedure turned into a 13-hour day. Jen had a catheter installed into the jugular vein in her neck to streamline the collection. While the neck catheter was the most viable option over using the veins in her arms, it made it very difficult to swallow/eat, cough and sneeze. Along with being poked with needles all day, Jen had to endure the constant sensation of blood being pumped in and out of her neck and an array of body aches and pains. Ben stayed by her side throughout the very long and uncomfortable day, but the stem cell collection was a success.
After having just undergone chemotherapy and radiation to prepare her body, Janice was ready for the transplant. Ben played their cancer anthem, “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, as the staff prepared her and placed a funny photo of Jen on the bag of stem cells to lighten the mood. The procedure was fairly easy and short (the stem cells were held in a bag and injected just like an IV) but it was an emotional one. The rollercoaster of emotions from these past few months - shock, love, fear, admiration, sadness, determination, anxiety, joy, and everything in between - has culminated in this moment. This moment of hope.
My Call to Action
I am honored to tell the story of Janice’s journey fighting cancer and how it has not only impacted her life, but of those she loves most, Ben and Jen.
For those of you who know Janice, Ben and Jen, I know that this family has impacted your life in one way or another. Their smiles are too bright and their hearts are too big for you to not have been touched by them.
For me, I met Jen and began to know her parents about 12 years ago when Jen and I worked together at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Our friendship clicked immediately. So much so that we decided to live together and did so for 5 years! Jen is one of the brightest lights you will find on this earth. Her spirit is kind, her personality is lively, her outlook is positive, and her journey is courageous. It’s easy to tell that Family and Friends mean the world to her. I know this because Jen has shown me time and again.
The biggest and most recent example of this is when I got married last November. In the middle of moving back to Hawaii from Las Vegas, Jen re-worked her schedule to make sure she was here for my bridal shower, bachelorette party and wedding – all for which she had a part in planning; she bought plane tickets (yes, plural) to travel back-and-forth between three different states; and she coordinated with vendors and prepped specialty cocktails for my wedding celebration. This is the type of friend Jen is. She is there when you need her the most. How lucky am I?!
When I spoke to Jen a few weeks ago and she expressed to me the need for financial help but was having a hard time putting pen to paper to create a GoFundMe campaign, I was drawn to be the friend she has been to me. I am humbled by Jen’s friendship and honored to share the story of Janice, Ben and Jen.
As you reflect on Janice’s and her family’s story, I encourage you to reminisce about the love, support and joy that each of them has brought into your life. And I ask that you join me in this call to action by supporting Janice’s #JuiceForJanice campaign as she, Ben and Jen navigate this courageous journey.
Janice and Ben are expected to stay in San Francisco for another 3-5 months.
As expected, Janice’s body has been trying to fight off the foreign cells (Jen’s cells) in her body, which manifests as fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, gas, etc. She continues to get chemotherapy to assist her body in accepting Jen’s stem cells while fighting off her own. As soon as she is released from the hospital from yet another long stay, she must remain living in isolation as her immune system rebuilds in the months ahead.
While living in San Francisco, Janice misses the daily visits from friends and family because the familiar smiles gave her an instinctive push to persist. But Janice continues to work hard to do her part: daily walks, healthy meals, keep a positive attitude and be a responsible patient. The goal is for Janice’s body to rebuild her system by replicating Jen’s stem cells and be cancer free very soon.
Ben continues to be Janice’s primary caregiver - showing up everyday to hopefully bring her something that makes her smile and to keep her company as she watches Hallmark and Chinese dramas. He is also the point person for any insurance questions (which we all know is no easy feat), and he’s been taking care of any and all of the bills.
Jen, after 3 weeks in San Francisco, has returned back to Hawaii to resume work and take care of her grandmother. While Ben continues to be a dedicated and uplifting husband, even he needs a physical and emotional break sometimes. So, Jen hopes to return on a monthly basis to help take care of her mom and allow her dad the time to take care of his personal needs and responsibilities.
Janice’s diagnosis has cost Janice and her family an immeasurable amount emotionally and physically. But with your help, we can ease their financial burden so that the family can focus on Janice and her recovery. Below is a list of expenses your donation will help pay for:
Medication, some of which cost thousands per month and some must be taken indefinitely
Living expenses while staying in San Francisco, such as food, daily parking expenses, gas, hygiene products, chipping in for rent, etc.
Flights going back and forth between Honolulu and San Francisco
Bills to maintain their home in Hawaii
Personal bills, such as cell phones, credit cards, etc.
Respite experiences to give the family a mental break, such as going out to eat, site seeing, movies, etc.
Lost wages from taking time off work
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read Janice’s #JuiceForJanice story. Any amount that you can donate will make a huge impact.
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