February 15, 1997..... Fundraiser for Mario Molina
Sylvia, Me, Patty, & Lea (Sylvia's daughter)
I was invited to attend a fundraiser for Mario in Montebello, all proceeds were going to the Mario Molina Fund. Monies that would be used for future bone marrow drives in Mario's honor. I was overwhelmed and honored to be included in the lives of Sylvia, Sasha, and now Mario. All three families joined forces to fight the same cancer and find a bone marrow donor. This fundraiser was at Quiet Cannon in Montebello and was absolutely lovely. Attention to detail on each table setting, silent auctions were set, fashion catwalk was ready, and the mood was overall joyous.
I was born in Montebello and I love the city! It was beautiful to see people come together to help others from the same community. Sylvia worked out of the East LA division and Mario lived in Whittier. Every time I organized around their neighborhoods, it just always seemed to work out with no problem.
My life had changed overnight, my priorities had shifted and now my mission was to save as many lives as possible. You see, Sylvia's story inspired me to come forward and help her find a donor. As we became closer, I felt more compelled to fight alongside her even more. I continued to organize, contact media, and go into the community to educate people about becoming a member of the National Marrow Donors registry. Unfortunately, some people need to put a face to the disease to feel compassion, so we put pictures of Sylvia, Mario and Sasha on every flyer to appeal to the community. My case was different, I didn't need to have a direct connection to leukemia to step up to the plate. I came forward because I learned we could save a life by donating bone marrow so why wouldn't everyone do it?! People would say "oh, but it hurts!" and my response was always, "oh, so you have donated before is that why you say that?" Of course the answer was always "no." I would proceed to tell people that they get a local anesthesia and it's a small pain to go through to save another life. As I got more involved and met more people, all it did was give me more of a desire to educate and organize.
It is hard to explain, or put into words the love I developed for Mario. My mother said it best, "Mario must have been your son in your past life." She hit the nail on the head, because that is EXACTLY what I felt. An overwhelming attachment to a little boy that I had just met. I stayed in constant contact with the Caraveo, Smith, and Molina families as I would have other drives lined up hoping for more perspective donors. My heart sank each day we awaited to hear good news for either Sylvia or Mario...but nothing. So I continued the fight and now had two angels to look after.
February 8, 1997...... Bone Marrow Drive @ Westfield Shopping Center, West Covina
I was in my last semester at CSUN majoring in Chicano/a Studies, working part time, and volunteering all of my free time to organize drives for the National Marrow Donor Programs LA office. I searched for venues that were large enough to host over 100 people because I knew I would be successful! Right away, Westfield shopping mall in West Covina supported my drive and printed up flyers for circulation throughout the mall. Sylvia lived in Whittier, worked out of the East LA Sheriffs division, and I knew we would get local support.
At the time, the National Marrow Donor Program was in desperate need of minorities to register for bone marrow. Given the circumstances, the NMDP waived the fee for any minority who registered. However, Caucasians were high in numbers on the national registry and if they volunteered to donate, we had to cover the cost, roughly $60 per person. I could not even fathem the idea of turning anyone away, so I had to raise the money. I wrote letters to local businesses in El Monte and West Covina. Longo Toyota responded to my letter asking for donations to cover the cost of sponsoring my bone marrow drive. Longo Toyota agreed to pay for every non-minority. Now, we were able to host the drive. I called the representative from the NMDP. We picked a date, and we were set!
Power 106FM, once again, supported my fight against cancer and sent the promotions team to bring more awareness. I contacted individual on-air DJ personalities, and they volunteered their time at every drive I organized. Morning show personality, Tito, and afternoon personality, Morales, NEVER let me down. At every single drive I organized, they were right by my side... Free of charge, never hesitant. I am eternally grateful! KIIS FM's head promotions director, Chet, was incredibly sensitive to my mission and always pulled through and sent me his promotions team. I was amazed how these 2 radio stations NEVER let me down! I wanted to have constant energy and would book the radio stations back to back. We had over 150 register for the National Marrow Donors registry. 120 were of Latino descent.
THEN.....I met my first true love, 2-year old Mario Molina. Sasha and Mario were both patients at LA Children's Hospital and were friends. Just like Sylvia and Sasha, he also had leukemia. The Caraveo family invited the Molina family, and it was the start of something surreal! Words can not express the love I developed for a little boy who was a stranger to me...Soon became the turning point in my life to fight even more! We developed a strong bond from the instant we met, when you read his story through this blog, I know you will be touched by him too....
December 1996...... I received a message from CSUN's Chicano Studies department that a man named Rafael saw me on TV and wanted to talk to me. He wanted me to organize drives for his 9-year old daughter Sasha, who was also in need of a bone marrow transplant. I was surprised and honored and did not hesitate to see what I could do. I called him back, and Sasha became part of my campaign against leukemia. Now, it was about connecting faces to this horrible cancer.
The most incredible thing about this entire leukemia/bone marrow disease is that we CAN save a life. It was second nature to me to continue this fight. Puzzle Zoo in Santa Monica donated a Tickle Me Elmo doll to Sylvia so she could auction it off to raise additional funds for bone marrow drives. Sylvia called me the day she found out and asked me to help..... Of course I would!!!
I called the Baka Boyz, the morning DJ's at Power 106fm, and they did not hesitate to help! Remember, Tickle Me Elmo was the hottest item around in 1996, and people were lining up for hours to get their hands on one!! We arrived at Puzzle Zoo and the media was all over it. We then headed to Power 106FM to auction the Elmo. Baka Boys worked their magic on the air, and it sold for $1700.00!! To this day, I am grateful for the love and support of so many who didn't even know Sylvia and came forward and never turned me down when I asked for help. Thank you Baka Boys for your genuine support, Corie Carvajal with the biggest heart in the world, and Channel 2's Carlos Granda for making this day a success!!
I started as a volunteer to help save Sylvia's life. Sylvia battled breast cancer years prior and had now developed leukemia. She fought every step of the way of this terrible cancer, hoping to find "that one" person that would match her for the transplant. I continued to organized drives and help get the word out into the community. The LA County Sheriffs Department was hosting a celebrity golf tournament to raise money for future drives in Sylvia's honor, and I was personally invited by Sylvia as her guest.
At the luncheon, I was completely surprised when I was called up by Sherman Block and Sylvia to receive an award. I did not expect any recognition because I was the one that felt thankful to have met such an incredible, strong, and amazing woman. My beautiful award from the LA County's Sheriff Department for "Student Organizer" sits on my wall as a reminder that anyone can make a difference in the plight against cancer. I was deeply touched and grateful that Sylvia took me under her wings and never let go! I became a part of her and she of me. We developed an incredible friendship, and I stood by her side from that moment on.....
Gil Carrillo, head detective on the Bruce Jenner