The holidays are not always merry and bright. Many suffer at this time of year from loneliness, bereavement, illness, financial struggles or family estrangements. Illness tops the list for one Canyon Lake family who has lived in the community since 2007.
At a time when other parents are looking forward to playing Santa Claus, Jorge and Cara Garcia are focused on helping their little girl survive cancer.
On November 11, Cara took Juliana, 3, for a routine wellness checkup. Noticing that Juliana had an enlarged spleen, the pediatrician ordered an ultrasound for November 13, which showed that she had what appeared to be Wilms tumor.
The doctor’s instruction was for Juliana to have a CT scan the following Monday. After much prayer, grief and uncertainty, Cara and Jorge decided not to wait until Monday, deciding instead to take their daughter to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Juliana was immediately admitted to the cancer floor and a follow-up CT scan confirmed Wilms tumor.
A healthy, happy, energetic little girl, Juliana had shown no apparent symptoms, which is typical for Wilms tumor. Also called nephroblastoma, Wilms tumor is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children and is named after Max Wilms, a German doctor who wrote one of the first medical articles about the disease in 1899.
On November 17, Juliana had her left kidney and the tumor attached to it removed. Pathology determined the tumor was Stage 1, with favorable histology, meaning it had not spread and the margins were negative. However, studies have shown that the best chance for non-recurrence of the tumor is surgery plus multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Currently, Cara, a 2nd grade teacher in Temecula, is driving Juliana to Los Angeles for treatment every week for 10 weeks. After this round of chemo has been completed, Juliana will return to L.A. every three weeks for a nine-week course. The drive and treatment time combined add up to a 12-hour day, which will be the family’s new reality for many weeks to come.
Cara says, even though the cancer is treatable, once this treatment is over, Juliana will have scans once every three months for two years, then once every four months for a year, then once every six months for two years. “I am sure the anxiety will be awful every single time,” she says. She recently met two mothers via internet whose children’s tumors were the same stage as Juliana’s and who experienced a relapse soon after treatment.
In addition to Juliana, the Garcias have a son, Gavin. Cara has been taking time away from work so that she can focus on caring for Juliana during her treatment and recovery. She has only a few days left before her time away from her job results in a reduced pay scale. Jorge is continuing to work and support his family during this stressful time.
Writing on gofundme.com, a family friend says, Jorge and Cara “now carry a heavy burden with all the additional costs, many unknown at this point, including Juliana’s surgery and hospital stays, chemotherapy treatments, medications, new diet, fuel costs for frequent travel to and from L.A, care for Gavin and more.”
The family friend adds, “In this great season of giving, I ask that you find it in your hearts to give a little or a lot in support of Juliana Garcia. Please do all that you can to help this beautiful family who are doing all they can to save their precious daughter from cancer. At the very least, please pray for a total healing of Juilana, and for Jorge, Cara, Gavin and their family to get through this difficult, trying time together.”
Cara says she want to get the word out about this type of tumor and remind parents to be diligent in doing those yearly wellness checkups. Such checkups are covered by insurance because they are preventative checkups.
To make a donation for Juliana’s care, visit www.gofundme.com/julianagarcia.