Gillian Esparza is planning a low-key celebration for her daughter’s first birthday, an occasion that typically would be spent surrounded by decorations and droves of family, friends and gifts that would elicit smiles and giggles from the easygoing baby.
Instead, on Aug. 18, tiny, dark-haired Violet will be in a bed at Cottage Children's Hospital for her second round of chemotherapy treatments to combat a form of leukemia.
What the infant has been through the past few months makes the one-year milestone that much more special, which is one of several positives Gillian Esparza has chosen to take away from the situation in which her Lompoc family has found themselves.
“We’re probably going to be back in the hospital, which is, in a way, probably a good thing,” the mother said. “She’s not really supposed to be around big crowds.”
Esparza, who is a native of Santa Barbara, along with her husband, Luis, said she first noticed something was off about Violet in June when a cold seemed to hit the youngest of her four children harder than other kids.
Violet was uncharacteristically fussy, needy and anxious, which doctors thought might be due to separation anxiety or teething.
Esparza said she was also especially grateful for soon after having taken Violet for routine vaccinations, which pushed her immune system into overdrive and caused more unusual symptoms — lethargy, yellow jaundice coloring and inconsolable crying — and led her to seek medical help.
At 10 months, Violent was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the white blood cells.
Violet immediately started chemotherapy and spent six weeks in the hospital before she was recently allowed a short reprieve at home, which is also a chance for the Esparzas to be together and not carting their other children — 7, 5 and 2 — back and forth from a hotel room.
Esparza said generous donations from family, friends and the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation paid for the hotel.
“She really is feeling a lot better in general,” Esparza said of Violet. “She’s not in as much pain as she was. She’s kind of back to herself. She just laughs and giggles. She’s very cheerful for what she’s going through in the hospital.”
Violet is home for what will hopefully be at least 10 days before she goes back to Cottage to pick up where her two-year treatment plan left off.
The Esparzas are hopeful for steady recovery, noting that ALL is the most treatable form of infant cancer and that survival rates are high.
“It’s definitely overwhelming,” Esparza said of her daughter's battle with cancer. “No baby should have to be going through that. I purposefully went into a survival mode. Everyone that we’ve had contact with has been amazing.
“Everybody has told us that the very first round (of chemo) is the hardest. The second time around I don’t think it will be any easier on her … but maybe emotionally we’ll all have a better idea of what to expect.”
The parents said they’re extremely grateful for the support of caring friends and family, who are raising money for Violet’s hospital bills via a GoFundMe page.
The Esparzas also hope to raise awareness and encourage everyone to donate blood to their local blood banks because similar donations have undoubtedly saved Violet’s life.