- Cullman, Alabama

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May 3, 2013

‘Prayers for Yazmin’

Student keeps winning spirit in battle against cancer

Her big brown eyes above the hospital mask will melt you with a glance. When she laughs they twinkle. Her favorite colors are pink and purple. Spelling is her favorite subject. She loves Mexican music and authentic Mexican food, and dreams of being a singer when she grows up.

Her 12th birthday is coming up May 18. She hopes there’ll be a piñata. She won’t say what she wants for her birthday. It’s not hard to guess, though.

A straight-A student at Fairview, Yazmin Reza has missed the entire sixth-grade year due to the fact that she has been dealing with more pressing issues than learning the combination on a new locker or the routine of being in middle school.

You see, Yazmin has something called Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. It started as an ache in her left shoulder that wouldn’t go away. Her fifth-grade homeroom/math teacher, Judy Bright, guessed that it was just growing pains, but questioned her to see if she had fallen or hurt it in some way.

She went for an MRI at Cullman Regional Medical Center. The diagnosis wasn’t good. It was malignant. The tiny little girl would have to have chemo and radiation, and following all of that — a bone morrow transplant.

Her family was devastated. Her mother, Rosa, cried. “It was very scary,” she said. The doctor made them feel better, though, by explaining how they would treat her illness and he prepared her for the fact that her hair would probably come out.

Yazmin underwent a total of eight chemo treatments and 32 radiation treatments. The bone morrow transplant was scheduled for just before Thanksgiving.

She was in the hospital about five weeks. Her teachers alternated coming to visit, and her friends at school donated to her fund instead of buying Christmas gifts, sold “Prayers for Yazmin” bracelets, and collected 20 one-gallon Ziploc bags bulging with pop tops from cans.

Of course, she got lots of gifts while recovering. One of them was a special quilt for her hospital bed made by Kathy Sweatmon with her classmates’ names on the back. Another was an American Girl doll designed to look like her, with a sweet bald head and little wire-rimmed glasses.

She felt well enough to attend the Fairview Middle School fall dance Oct. 27. Her friends helped her get ready. One mom was a beautician who volunteered to do Yazmin’s makeup. Dr. Bright and another of her teachers and her biggest fan, April Jochum, took her shopping for a dress, shoes, a new little beret hat so that her head wouldn’t get cold and even a small purse.

She must have felt like Cinderella, all dressed for the ball. She says she’s never had so much attention.

“We were afraid she would get tired, but she wasn't ready to leave,” smiled Jochum.

Yazmin still doesn’t eat much, but is feeling much better now — although she hasn’t gotten her energy back yet.

On Nov. 22, 2012, the brave child underwent a bone marrow transplant. They administered it through a central line for which a port had been surgically implanted earlier. It only took about 10 minutes for the transplant. Her own bone morrow cells were collected prior to surgery.

It was a rough five days. Her mom never left her side. Her grandmother and an aunt came from Mexico to stay with her dad and her little brother, Javier, 4. Her dad, Javier Sr., works at Southern Energy Homes and came straight to the hospital after leaving work every day.

When she became bored, she asked for an arts-and-crafts kit. She spent hours working on braided bracelets. She loves to paint, and even won an award for painting flower pots while in the hospital.

She was elected Aggie Ambassador and Class Personality for 2013.

Neither Yazmin, nor her parents had ever heard of Relay For Life. But they will attend this year, if possible.

Recently, Yazmin visited after school with her teachers, April Jochum, and her guidance counselor.

She confided with a giggle that she’s never had a bike, but she loves to jump on the trampoline. She goes to therapy at RehabOne twice a week, and says her arm still hurts but that the therapy is helping.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is working on her wish — a trip to Disney World.

People in the Fairview community have been great. A Fairview fifth-grade student, Dow Nichols, asked his church, Mt. Harmon, for prayers for his classmate’s recovery. The church later took up an offering for Yazmin.

Although the Reza family has asked for nothing, the community has pulled together enough funds to make sure that they have money to pay their water and electric bills, and to buy gas for the trips back and forth to Birmingham. The family is humbled by the outpouring of love from friends and classmates, and the many people that cared enough to help, although the Rezas are strangers to some of them.

The Details

The 2013 Relay For Life Cullman will be today at the Cullman County Fairgrounds. Survivors’ dinner will be at 5 p.m. in Building No. 4, followed by the Survivors’ walk at 7 p.m.

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