Family #1’s Story
This year One Special Christmas will be making Christmas special for 3 families. Here is FAMILY #1’s story:
Tijuana is a fighter. And right now, she’s in the fight of her life.
The 35-year-old, single mother of two has worked hard all her life, hardly ever asking for help or accepting it when offered.
Over time, struggle has clearly birthed strength – and perhaps a little stubbornness – in the young Charlotte mom. Though she has a strong support system in her mother, two sisters and a close friend, Tijuana shoulders responsibility of her son, 11, and daughter, 16, on her own. She’s tough, she says, because she has to be.
But life took a sudden downhill turn for Tijuana and her family just three short months ago. Tijuana wasn’t feeling well one day in late August. She was sent home from work and couldn’t return for two days. She said she noticed at the time that the side of her left breast, under her arm, was swollen, but she assumed it was muscle fatigue from recent labor at work.
Though Tijuana continued to feel sick and was vomiting during the next three weeks, trips to the hospital yielded no answers … until one specific doctor finally decided to run multiple tests.
“She came back and told me I have Stage 4 breast cancer,” said a devastated Tijuana.
The young mother said she has no recollection of the next 11 days – including her 35th birthday – that she spent in the hospital. She began chemotherapy treatments while there and couldn’t walk without assistance from a walker or wheelchair. Her body was swollen because of fluids being pumped into her. Her speech changed. She couldn’t complete simple tasks like holding a phone, using a restroom or bathing herself.
“It all just happened so fast,” said Tijuana, unable to hold back tears. Because of her young age, Tijuana never had a mammogram. Doctors estimate that her cancer likely started within the past six months, and it has already spread to her liver. “It’s very aggressive,” she said.
One doctor told Tijuana that she will be out of work and in chemotherapy treatments for the rest of her life. But a defiant Tijuana shook her head and said, “I don’t believe that.” She said, in fact, “My new doctor says it’s basically how I feel, and that (my prognosis) is up to me.”
She says right now, doctors are keeping her alive by treating her liver.
Tijuana weeps every time she talks about her children. Her daughter, a junior at West Charlotte, is carrying much of the weight of the diagnosis. Her son is younger and has been researching cancer on the computer, said Tijuana. “Sometimes, he just stands there and looks at me because he’s trying to take it all in,” Tijuana said, trying to catch her breath as she sobbed. “My kids have to see me and all these changes in me.”
In her typical spirit, Tijuana is fighting. She said doctors were surprised to see her walking without a walker recently. “Three or four weeks ago,” she said, “my body was swollen from fluids, I was wheelchair-bound and using a walker, dragging an oxygen tank around.
“I’m supposed to still be using a walker, but I don’t need it, and I don’t want to use anything I don’t need,” she said. “I have to move around. I have kids. I have to do stuff. I can’t be lazy. And as long as my legs work, I’m going to utilize them.”
She said she is going a little stir-crazy being stuck in her house. She can’t be around a lot of people when her white-blood-cell count is low. “I need a hobby,” she said, adding that she may pick up crocheting. “I can’t just sit at home and go to doctor appointments all day.”
Tijuana’s just shook her head when asked what would make One Special Christmas for her and her children; it’s clear she isn’t accustomed to accepting help. Her ideas for the kids were humble: pajamas, gift cards, shoes. “They’re not picky,” Tijuana said. “Anything they get, they’ll be appreciative.”
But we at One Special Christmas don’t want to stop at granting traditional wishlist items for this remarkable family. We want to raise enough money to make sure this Christmas is one that Tijuana and her children will never, ever forget. Won’t you help us?
Become a sponsor for our auction, make a financial donation, donate an item to be auctioned, or be a table host and bring a crowd to our Dec. 3 auction at Oehler’s Barn in Charlotte!