A Quinceañera is a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday that is widely celebrated throughout Latin America. Symbolically, it marks her passage from girlhood to womanhood. It is a big deal for many young ladies, and they begin planning it when they turn fourteen. But that didn’t happen for Natalie Guzman.
Natalie had been a very healthy child until she began losing weight and sleeping more often at the age of thirteen. Her pediatrician drew blood and confirmed that her labs looked normal for her age. But her weight loss continued, and she began getting stomachaches. When she noticed bruising on her body, her doctor sent her to the emergency room for more testing. It was there that Natalie was diagnosed with leukemia – just one day before her fourteenth birthday.
“Despite knowing something was wrong, you are never ready to receive news like that.” Shared her mother, Sandra. We were devastated.”
Planning for Natalie’s Quinceañera was put on hold while she began treatment.
“My first thought was, ‘am I going to die?’” said Natalie. “I was very scared because we have family members who have passed away from cancer.”
The first round of chemotherapy eliminated 97% of her cancer. The treatment was harsh, but her body responded well to it, and she began her journey to remission. Then the pandemic hit. While she was starting to feel better, it was hard to focus on planning for her 15th birthday. With stores closed and quarantines in place, it was also difficult to shop for the traditional clothes and favors. To keep Natalie safe, her family planned a drive-by Quinceañera for her.
“Girls look forward to the party for so many years. So doing it the way we had to was like putting a dream on hold because of cancer,” explained Sandra.
Natalie continued treatment as lockdowns and quarantines ended, and when the time came for her next birthday, she was able to celebrate with a wonderful Sweet 16 party! Her family pulled out all the stops and made it a beautiful day for her. An even greater celebration happened a few months later as Natalie walked out of the hospital cancer-free.
Throughout their fight, Natalie and her family clung to their faith, especially verse 10 from Isaiah 41, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
Sandra remembers those days in the hospital and refers to CURE as hope for families diagnosed. She appreciates the meals they received and also very tangible help.
“My husband and I have a small business,” she explained. “But neither of us could work because of Natalie’s cancer treatments. CURE paid our mortgage for two months, which was a big relief. When the pandemic made our business very slow, CURE paid another mortgage payment. I’m so glad CURE was there to support our family.”
And Natalie is happy to be back in school – healthy and with a full head of hair.
“Being bald was hard on me as a teenage girl,” she said. “But my hair came back curly, and I like it!”