family celebrate first cancer-free Christmas in 3 years - Family Angels PROGRAM helpS
By Maritza Velazquez, Staff Writer - Pasadena Star News
Posted: 12/24/2012 06:51:16 PM PST Pasadena Star News
Updated: 12/24/2012 08:11:56 PM PST
Ailene Garcia, 17, Alexis Guardado, 15, Thannya Guardado, 34, and Julisa Guardado, 15, giving their mother Thannya Guardado, a warm embrace Wednesday, December 19, 2012. The Guardado family in El Monte is celebrating Christmas together this year after they thought that Christmas 2011 woud be their last that they would spend together. Thannya Guardado, 34, a single mother who works seven days a week to support her daily, was diagnosed with stage five brain cancer. Now, she is cancer free, but the family is still struggling to with their finances to pay off medical bills. A local nonprofit, Five Acres in Altadena is helping the family and others, celebrate the holidays despite their struggles. (SGVN/Photo by Walt Mancini)
EL MONTE - This Christmas, Thannya Guardado wasn't hoping for clothes, jewelry, or anything of material substance.
This holiday season, she's thankful to be alive after struggling with life-threatening brain cancer for the last three years, and to have her teenage daughters by her side.
"I just want them to be happy," the single mother said as she looked at her three girls. "That's it. I just want us to be the way we were before."
Now cancer-free for her first Christmas in three years, the 34-year-old El Monte resident says she is most looking forward to cooking a holiday feast for her family.
"I am so excited to cook without throwing up and being able to taste again," she said. "We're going to make food and bake our eyes out."
In June 2009, doctors found a brain tumor and told Guardado that she only had six months to live. Not only was she faced with the prospect that her life might soon come to an end, but with the pain that her daughters were left to endure as they struggled with the idea that their mom might not be with them anymore.
As they gathered around a table last week sharing intimate stories of the close-knit family, they reflected on this tumultuous time in their lives and how they were still working to overcome.
"I guess I was really selfish that first year (after the diagnosis)," Guardado said. "When I would see them get upset or crying, I would say `why are you getting angry? You're not the one dying.' I didn't know how to handle them or myself."'
The three teens - Ailene, 17, Alexis, 15 and Julisa, 14 - took the news hard, too. They were emotional as they recounted when they found out their mother had cancer.
"I didn't want to believe that my mom had cancer," said Alexis, a sophomore at El Monte High School. "Cancer itself was scary. I never wanted to see her sick. It looked like she wasn't getting better, and that hurt me, and I didn't have anyone to tell it to because I didn't want anyone knowing."
Thannya eventually turned to Five Acres, an Altadena-based child and family services agency, which counseled the family through the process. The Guardados are also taking part in the organization's Family Angels program, which provides gifts to families in need through donations from the community.
"I don't want them to forget what they've been able to do with this situation, and they've been so willing to allow us in their lives," said Christina Hart, one of the therapists at Five Acres who has helped Guardado and her family overcomme their hardships.
Through it all, the girls continued to go to school, get good grades and be there for their mother, who had to continue to work through it all in order to support the family financially.
"My sisters were sad, and mom was sick," said the eldest sibling, Ailene. "I couldn't keep feeling sorry for myself or crying because if my mom wasn't feeling strong or anything, there was someone else who had to do that job, which is why when my mom was sick, I did most of the cleaning and cooking and everything."
Although the cancer is gone, their wounds are still healing, the family said.
"There's still moments that are hard, because this is still new to us," Thannya said. "There are times I open my eyes and feel this rush of pain come over me and I think `now my head's going to hurt' and then think `wait no it's not.' Everyday it's still a part of me."
But they continue to remain positive, even embracing their living situation. The four live with Thannya's mother in a one-bedroom apartment in El Monte.
Though it may be a challenge and at times they may want to "pull each other's hair out," the women enjoy their arrangement and one another, especially following the strife they've experienced over the last few years.
With big smiles on their faces, they excitedly told stories about their life together - such as how the three girls follow their mother around the cramped apartment, all talking at once, or how they sometimes argue with each other and to their humor, their mother isn't listening to a word they're saying.
"In our last house, we had our own rooms and everything," Ailene said. "We were all doing our own thing, and we wouldn't really communicate. Now we're always laughing."
Today, the Guardados were planning on spending an intimate Christmas together with Thannya's fiance Carlos Medina and their two dogs, they said.
"It's always just been just us," Thannya said. "We're just so close."
"But it's still hard because it's like we're getting to know one another all over again. Just us individually, without cancer."