“My mom is my best friend,” says 12 year old, Esmeralda. And this mother and daughter have had to go through more than most. 

Just over a year ago, in July 2015, Esmeralda was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment included chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and cell therapy. During this rigorous regimen, Esmeralda spent almost 6 months in the hospital.
 
“It was horrible. I felt very sad and scared…I felt trapped…most of the time I didn’t have anything to do,” says Esmeralda. While she tried to stay positive, those were very rough times. She spent most of her days with no one to talk to other than the doctors, nurses, child life specialists and her Friends of Karen social worker. And, of course, her mom, Maria, who was by her side every step of the way.
 
After those long months in the hospital, Esmeralda was finally able to go home. “I felt happy when we finally left the hospital. It was like seeing the end of this nightmare. I love to look at the sky, be outside and see people,” she says. But, because Esmeralda is still severely immunocompromised, she won’t be able to be in public spaces for at least another 6-9 months. That would be hard for anybody, but especially for a 12 year old. But, mom, is always there for her trying her best to make Esmeralda feel better.
 
“We get in the car, Esmeralda wears a face mask to protect her from bacteria and viruses and we drive by parks, restaurants, malls. From the car, Esmeralda looks at the kids playing and people doing things.”
 
Esmeralda says that Friends of Karen has always been there for them. “When I hear Friends of Karen, it makes me smile and I feel happy,” she remarks. “They have helped us so much. They gave me emotional support….Melinda and Jane [Friends of Karen sibling support specialists] taught me and answered my questions about leukemia and the treatment and all the changes I was experiencing at the time. Melinda and Jane spent time with me when I felt sad or I needed someone to listen to me. Friends of Karen remembered my birthday. They always send me the best gifts. It’s almost like they know what I like!”
 
“Friends of Karen means a lot to me,” adds mom. “You guys help me in so many ways. I don’t feel like you are only an organization, you are friends, part of the family. You walk this difficult road with me and Esmeralda. I don’t feel alone. You are always looking out for us. Friends of Karen makes sure we have a roof over our heads, food on the table and heat in the winter. You are a blessing.”
 
In January, Esmeralda was admitted for more treatment and the doctor told her that her hair was going to fall out again. It was especially upsetting since, even though it was short, it had been growing and it had been nice to see her hair again. One day, when she was on the internet, she saw a picture of people having designs shaved into their hair, so she asked her mom if she could do that too. Mom said yes.
 
“I chose two hearts because I think they represent me and my mom,” says Esmeralda proudly. “I’m the small one, inside the big one, my mom. She is always with me and loves me and protects me.” Theirs is a very special bond.