When 6-year-old Yamila first came to St. Jude from her home in Puerto Rico, she had already undergone cancer treatment at the age of three.
Cancer was once again her number-one challenge.
Her second most important challenge? Learn how to ride her bike.
One of her biggest challenges outside of treatment was learning how to do something by herself. The bicycle was that instrument that helped her become independent and say, ‘I can do this; this is my goal and I’m going to accomplish it.'
It was that same confidence that gave Yamila the strength to face acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer most common in Hispanic children.
Aside from her head and stomach hurting, Yamila remembers most the pain of losing her hair during treatment.
Now at the age of 15, she has persevered against her cancer three times and is celebrating five years of remission.
One of her ways of celebrating, according to her mom, is by letting her hair grow out.
Her hair continues being her gift. She loves having her loose curls and doesn’t want anyone touching or cutting them.
Yamila travels to St. Jude every six months for checkups from her home in Puerto Rico.
While she and her family were happy to be going back to a sense of normalcy after her treatment, things changed dramatically when Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017, and Yamila's family grew concerned for her health.
“It wasn’t easy watching them be in need,” Yahaira said, referring to Yamila and her brother, Yariel. “There was a lack of drinking water the first few months and the electricity didn’t return until seven months after the storm."
Shortly after the hurricane left, Yahaira and her two children decided to travel to the U.S. and stay with a family friend. Yamila’s father stayed behind and kept in touch through text and FaceTime.
Upon arriving in the U.S., one of the first activities Yamila and her family participated in was the St. Jude Walk/Run.
She was really excited. She would tell me, ‘I want to finish this race for the kids of St. Jude.’ She enjoyed it tremendously.
An avid animal lover, Yamila also visited the local zoo where she fed giraffes and posed with shark teeth and crocodiles.
During her time in the U.S., Yamila learned how to play the piano, which became her favorite instrument.
After spending about three months in the U.S., Yamila’s family reunited in Puerto Rico where the power did not return for another three to four months.
“We spent a long time recovering,” Yahaira said. “Thank goodness, everything is returning to normal.”
It was that long period of recovery that reminded Yahaira of Yamila’s road to recovery, and how St. Jude saved her life.
St. Jude is the opportunity we needed, the hope we have and the miracle we were given. They always treated us like part of their family; we felt that support and that reassurance that everything would turn out ok, and Yamila is the result of that.
Today, in between going to school, playing piano and dressing up like a wolf, Yamila enjoys spending time with her brother, Yariel, her dog, Maya, her cat, Nieve, and her fish, Gumby.
And thanks to donors like you, she's still riding her bike, this time without the training wheels.