This is the third in a series of posts brought to you by Northwestern Mutual as part of its Mother’s Day Campaign and Childhood Cancer Program. Although financially compensated for the creation of this series, all writing, thoughts and opinions are our own.
It’s been called “Mother’s Intuition,” that sixth sense that is somehow activated when we are suddenly put in charge of raising a child. Our hearts are no longer our own and as we learn more about our kids as they grow up, we come to know them better than anyone else. So when something is wrong, Moms know. And it’s in moments like that when moms will do anything for their kids, no matter how great a sacrifice is needed.
Moms whose kids have been diagnosed with pediatric cancer know this all too well. We are thrilled to partner with Northwestern Mutual this Mother’s Day to raise awareness about childhood cancer through its Childhood Cancer Program that seeks to support the search for cures for a variety of cancers. This Mother’s Day, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation is shining the spotlight on several local Milwaukee families who have been bravely battling cancer, as well as making a $50,000 donation to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in their honor to help find a cure. To date, Northwestern Mutual has raised more than $10 million and funded more than 105 hours of research devoted to discovering life-saving treatments.
We got to chat with one such special family, the Guerreros. This is their story.
Almost five years ago, the Guerrero family got the phone call from their son’s pediatrician—the one parents dread.
Even though Anna Guerrero hadn’t been living with a general fear of something terrible happening, when she saw the doctor’s office was calling, “I just knew,” she remembered. “My gut told me it was something beyond a normal call.” She and her husband, Epigmenio (Epi) were instructed to come in to discuss some lab results and they were not supposed to bring their three-year-old son, Manny, along to the appointment.
When the Guerreros met with their son’s doctor, they were told there were abnormal findings on Manny’s routine blood work. He was diagnosed shortly afterwards with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) by the physicians of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
“Our lives were changed in a moment.”
In the days and weeks following the diagnosis, their world was turned upside down. Anna began balancing her job working as a nurse with being present for her son when he was hospitalized or had appointments. Epi and Anna traded shifts to make sure someone was always with Manny, while also continuing to care for their older son, Ricardo. Epi had to quit his job and delay dreams of going back to school in order to make it all work.
Even as they cycled through the stages of grief—fear, sadness, and anger—the family poured themselves into Manny’s care. The support they received from Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc (MACC Fund) was the foundation for gaining knowledge and embracing hope in the midst of their young son’s health crisis.
The road wasn’t always an easy one. A few months after his initial chemo treatments, Manny developed a quadruple infection in his legs that almost took his life. Because his body’s ability to fight normal infections was so poor, it took multiple antibiotics and a lot of time before he began healing–he even had to learn to walk all over again.
Manny’s laughter and confidence in the face of his illness brought the Guerreros the strength that they needed. He brought joy everywhere he went, even though he was the sick one. “The nurses at the MACC Fund Center would fight over taking care of him,” Anna said. “The staff is there because they care, not just for a paycheck and they’ve become like family to us though all of this.”
Manny continued to attend school throughout his treatment, but Anna constantly felt anxious about his weakened immune system. “I was constantly worried about germs,” she shared. The Child Life Specialists from the MACC Fund Center came to Manny’s classroom to help educate the other kids about the things Manny was experiencing.
When Manny finished his treatment in February 2015, he got to read a poem and ring a bell to signify the end of one phase of his life and the beginning of another. “It was a proud moment for us,” Anna said speaking of her family’s joy about Manny finishing his chemo.
Epi and Anna took what they’d be saving for a dream wedding (they’d been married at a courthouse originally), and spent it on a “No More Chemo” party.
What does the future hold for the Guerreros? Anna has continued to pursue her career as a nurse by nearly completing her Master’s in Nursing with a mental health nurse practitioner focus. “This experience has made me more empathetic for my patients, it reminds me to put myself in the patient’s shoes.”
Manny is cancer free and doing well. At times he struggles with some side effects from his treatment process, but continues to enjoy school and his check-up visits at the MACC Fund, which are now about once a month. Epi would like to pursue some of his work and educational goals, and Ricardo is happy to know his brother is doing well and they now have more time all together as a family.
Anna said, “The MACC Fund is the best thing to happen to kids in Wisconsin.” She wants to encourage families that even if they end up getting their lives turned upside down by pediatric cancer, there is hope. “There are so many resources out there, ones you don’t really know are there until you need them.”
“Motherhood is a lifelong promise to protect and fight for your child. For some mothers, the greatest fight isn’t their own; it’s helping their child battle cancer.”
– Northwestern Mutual
Learn more at Northwesternmutual.com.