With two weeks left of chemotherapy for Ewing sarcoma, 7-year-old Kaitlyn Sifuentes was diagnosed with pneumonia in her left lung – the lung that was already partially removed because of a tumor.
The doctor ordered a stop to chemotherapy for those two weeks because it was lowering Kaitlyn’s blood cell count, according to her mother, Roxanne Navarro. Still, when the family returned to the doctor about three weeks later, Kaitlyn was told she was cancer free.
“I would tell her ‘Kaitlyn, you need to pray and ask God.’ So I think she already knew that she was cancer free,” Navarro said. “So when I told her, she was so calm about it, like if she already knew that God had healed her.”
At the Sept. 12 Mission Veterans vs. Juarez-Lincoln football game, Kaitlyn was one of seven children recognized in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Gold ribbons lined the bleachers, spectators wore gold shirts and the football players donned gold sweatbands in honor of the month.
Mission CISD and La Joya ISD banded together with the Faith Family Friends Foundation to honor children in the school districts who have cancer or are in remission.
The students recognized were:
- Cesar Campos of Mission, who is in remission from liver cancer
- Domenique Reyna of Penitas, who is a Leukemia survivor
- Geremmy Trejo of Mission, who is living with Leukemia
- Kahlia Espinoza of Mission, who has spleen cancer
- Victoria Tejada of Palmview, who is living with Leukemia
- Ricardo Garcia Jr. of Mission, who was not present but still recognized, also has Leukemia.
Each child was announced during the pregame. They walked hand-in-hand with their family to the center of the field where they received hugs and a yellow rose from the MCISD superintendent, board and Veterans Memorial High School principal.
“If we can go pink in October, how come football teams can’t go gold in September?” asked Maritza Esqueda, the foundation president. “Obviously I can’t call the NFL to get it done, but I know a bunch of people in the Valley. We can start here and every year we can get it bigger, and we can spread awareness that way.”
Every Friday for the month of September, the Faith Family Friends Foundation will honor pediatric cancer patients during the football games. MCISD will participate again this week during the Mission High vs. Edinburg High School game Sept. 18.
The goal, Esqueda said, is provide more funding for research. According to Esqueda, less than 5 percent of funding for cancer goes to pediatric patients.
Kaitlyn had been battling cancer since she was five years old. She had a tumor about the size of a softball removed from her left lung and was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for about 11 months for a tumor in her hip.
“You hear about it but you just never think it would happen to you, especially to your child,” Roxanne Navarro said. “Maybe it doesn’t hit people close to home. It didn’t hit me either. My life was different; my kids were healthy. But from one day to another your life changes. So it’s better to do something now than when it’s too late.”
Navarro said her daughter underwent both physical and emotional changes while undergoing chemotherapy. She dropped to 34 pounds, her confidence lowered and she shied away from people.
But after nine months in remission, Navarro said Kaitlyn has returned almost fully to her old self. She likes to get her nails painted, get dressed up and be out of the house.
“At the beginning it took a lot for me to understand and comprehend everything,” Navarro said. “But we are very close to God … and I think that’s how she got through it too.”
Although Kaitlyn is from Mission, she attends E.B. Reyna Elementary in Palmview and represented La Joya ISD, but she was an embodiment of two districts together for one cause.
“This isn’t about the game,” MCISD Superintendent Ricardo Lopez said. “It’s about the kids.”