Julia's Hope Fund

Just last month Julia Gutierrez was living a seemingly normal, happy and healthy life as a 16-year-old. An advanced honors student, taking 11th grade classes, even though she's only in the 10th grade, Julia's life was non-stop"”juggling ballet, tap and jazz lessons with softball practice"”for two teams"”while teaching a ballet class for 5-year-olds, umpiring and babysitting jobs. She had already interviewed for, and had been promised a summer job as a camp counselor. But no matter how busy Julia was, she always made time to spend with her countless friends and family members.

All of that changed with one single phone call. Julia's Mom, Dawn, was home when she got the call from Montefiore Children's Hospital. The voice on the other end of the line told her that the orthopedic team needed to see Julia immediately. Her heart sank as she drove to Julia's school and signed her out of class. Julia's father, Henry, met them at the hospital.

During the appointment, their worst fears were realized. The doctors told them that the pain and weakness which started in Julia's right shoulder was not caused by tendonitis from playing softball as her local orthopedist originally believed. They said it was caused by a rare and aggressive form of cancer called osteosarcoma.

Julia was immediately admitted to the pediatric oncology floor. Over the next blur of hours, Julia underwent a barrage of tests. By the next day, the diagnosis got even worse"”the cancer had spread to both of Julia's lungs. A team of doctors was quickly put in place to oversee the next year of Julia's life. To combat the incredibly aggressive and fast growing cancer, Julia is slated to have 33 weeks of intensive chemotherapy"”two to five times each week"”that will bookend three extensive surgeries"”one to remove the cancerous bone from her arm and replace it with a prosthesis, and one on each of her lungs.

Cancer is such an incredibly cruel disease, especially when it attacks someone as young, vibrant and special as Julia. She is already battling the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy"”the hair loss, constant nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, mouth sores and susceptibility to infection. But through it all, Julia remains an incredible child. She is beautiful, kind, compassionate, intelligent and funny. She is so much more than that. She cares deeply about her family and friends and would do anything she could to help anyone in need. Julia has the potential and drive to do amazing things with her life. She already knows what she wants to be when she grows up"”a doctor.

Julia touches the heart and soul of everyone she meets. Even the nurses in the hospital fell in love with her. They were amazed at her will, her courage and tenacity. They called her "a maverick."

And even though she is battling through the most devastating, painful and frightening time in her life, Julia is determined to fight the cancer and reclaim her life. For instance, when she first found out that she couldn't return to school for nine to 12 months, she was very upset. But being Julia, she was intent on keeping up with her education. She started having home tutoring the day after she was discharged from the hospital"”and not by random teachers assigned to her case. Julia is so loved and respected by her teachers at Washingtonville High School, that each and every one of them has volunteered to tutor her at home.

The other night Julia asked her mom how she was going to get through this. Dawn told her that she would get through it the same way she's gotten through everything else in her life"”just by being herself"”and with the love and support of her family and friends.

I have known and loved Julia since before she was born. I am her aunt without the biological connection. I have been best friends with Dawn for 30 years. We have been by each other's side through the best and worst times in our lives. As you can imagine, the cancer diagnosis has been devastating. Julia has tremendous battles ahead of her"”and Dawn is determined and dedicated to help Julia by being with her every single step of the way. But that's going to take a huge financial toll on the family"”especially since Dawn is a divorced, single Mom to Julia and 13-year-old Jeremy. On top of all the medical and travel expenses, there are the everyday expenses to worry about"”including paying the mortgage on the home Julia and Jeremy have grown up in.

I passed a billboard the other day that read "The things we take for granted, someone else is praying for." I pray that one day Julia's life will be filled with going to school, having fun with her friends and looking forward to her future. I pray that one day the only remnants of cancer and this time in her life will be a few scars on her body. I pray that she will not suffer over the next year of treatment and that when it is all over, she will be healthy and strong again. I am asking you to please help Julia and her family in any way you can. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


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