At 18 years old, Odalys Jimenez-Castano, also known as Giselle, was a senior who was living every day like it was her last, no different from any other teenager. With college a year away, prom coming up in a few months and graduation around the corner, it seemed as if nothing could stop her or the path she was leading. But what Giselle didn’t know was that her life would change forever in a matter of minutes.
On November 11th, 2011 Giselle and her mother sat in a doctor’s office patiently waiting for all the right answers.
"The time is now 1:06 p.m. and I smell the overpowering essence of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer surrounding the elephant covered walls of a room where diagnosis is uncovered, tears are spilt, and answers are found. I know sooner or later the doctor will arrive with a folder as big as her torso filled with tests and extremely long medical terms," she later recalled.With a million thoughts going through her head, fear struck Giselle as she pushed her head into her pillow. Shocked and unprepared to deal with her diagnosis, Giselle would soon discover the value of life as she saw herself in the seats of many who fight a disease with no cure.
"Three minutes or so have passed; I feel her cold hands pressing all parts on my body as she is paying close attention to the abnormal textures of my lymph nodes. Her eyes glanced over at me for just a second; I could see the desolate look in her eyes; a look I feared.
"The time is now 1:13 p.m.. My thoughts begin to race. I can feel my blood rushing throughout my body as I detain a panic attack heading in my direction. I take a deep breath and as I begin to exhale, the doctor sits, holds her breath as she releases the words a mother never wants to hear; 'I know there is no easy way to say this, but we have discovered lymphoma in your daughter's chest.' My mother looks over right into my eyes, and waits for a reaction. Tears begin to rush down her soft, olive cheeks. She gasps for air and attempts to hold in the feelings of wretchedness she does not want to reveal in front of me. Not being able to hold her emotions any longer, she yells out 'cancer? This must be a mistake.' ”
Giselle was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease Stage 2B at Hackensack University Medical Center at the Tomorrow’s Children Institute of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology. Giselle said, “We did not expect anything as severe as cancer; No family is ever prepared for cancer, especially in a child; however when strong is your only option that is the option you take.” Giselle began receiving a sufficient amount of chemotheraphy in hopes of fighting her cancer.
In January, however, Giselle ran into unexpected complications. Her white blood cell count was not increasing as planned and Giselle would be forced to stop chemotherapy. A possible, but not promising solution was for her to have a stem cell transplant. Giselle was faced with the dark truth that if the transplant was unsuccessful, she would only have three months to live.
Holding on to life, Giselle said, “It was very difficult to see everyone grow, apply to colleges, shop for prom dresses, enjoy their senior years, while I laid in a hospital bed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, waiting to hear if my chemotherapy was working. While my life hung on a string, I watched as my friends partied, enjoyed living, and made memories.”
Although Giselle’s friends were out making memories, they never hesitated to pause their schedules, only to hit play and spend their lives with Giselle. With each day that passed, Giselle’s family and friends prayed for her; Giselle prayed too.
“Hearing you are dying is the worst news any person could ever hear; however I was hopeful God was with me every step of the way,” she said. “I realized I was not alone and I realized God had sent me a blessing in disguise.” Three weeks later, Giselle’s white blood cell count increased and she was able to receive chemotherapy again. With a soft look of acceptance, Giselle said, “Eventually, I understood I was making memories of my own.”
And Giselle does just that. Being treated at the Tomorrow’s Children Institute inspired Giselle to hold a fundraising event. She held a Zumba dance class called “Shakin’ it for Odalys” to raise awareness and money for the institution. Her next major event is sponsored by Relay For Life, where her and her high school classmates will raise money for the American Cancer Society. Giselle also speaks at various high schools, sharing her story while giving insight to other teenagers. Giselle can look back on her own memories, and remember how she inspired people while changing their lives.
When Giselle was first being treated at the hospital with chemo she was nervous and filled with uncertainty. Then she met an 8-year-old girl named Ava who gave her a new perspective.
“I can’t feel sorry for myself because if Ava can fight, I can too," Giselle said. "My diagnosis reminded me of the importance of deciphering the meaning of life through an open perspective; not everything life places in our paths is meant to be understood, sometimes some things are left unknown because if the world were full of answers, we would not have anything worth fighting for.”
Delilah Scrudato is a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas College majoring in Communication Arts.