Honorary Relay for Life chair counts on family for support

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Annette Garcia was diagnosed with leukemia January 18, 2008. She said she leans on her husband and daughter Destiny, 7, for support.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

After three or four dizzy spells that prevented her from working, driving and even walking, Annette Garcia decided it was time to go to the doctor.

She thought it could be complications from a gastric bypass surgery. Perhaps severe allergies. Everything crossed her mind, except cancer.

When the diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia came back, Garcia said the first thing she felt was denial.

“There were no signs, no symptoms, until the dizzy spells,” she said.

After a second doctor in Lubbock confirmed the diagnosis, Garcia said she slipped into severe depression.

“I cried and cried and cried, for two weeks straight,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone to work but my assistant was on maternity leave so I went to work and just cried.”

But going to work is what finally pulled her out of the depression she said.

“My customers would sit and talk to me and tell me that they’d pray for me. They’d come back a couple of days later just to check on me. It was just so amazing how such a small community can pull together in the face of something so big,” the wife and mother said.

Now, Garcia’s cancer is in remission, thanks to a daily dose of chemotherapy in pill form. But the pill comes with side effects.

Garcia said she wakes up with headaches each morning, is often nauseated, losses concentration easily and has severe anxiety attacks. She’s hoping for a bone marrow donor match, but even that option comes with its downside.

“If my body accepts the marrow, I could be cancer free. If not, I’ll be meeting the good Lord,” Garcia said, tears springing to her eyes. “It’s not that you try it, and if it doesn’t work, you can try again. You either live or die.”

Garcia said she’s leaned heavily on the support of her husband Leo, their seven-year-old daughter Destiny and God for support.

Getting involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is also helping her continue with her life, she said. She was named the Honorary Chair for the 2009 Relay for Life.

“There’s a saying that God has a purpose for everyone and you will be here until you fulfill that purpose,” she said. “Maybe my purpose is just being a cancer survivor and to educate more people about the disease.”

At this year’s Relay, slated for Friday and Saturday, Annette and Leo will be in charge of promoting bone marrow donor screenings. Annette said bone marrow has changed with technology and is a simple mouth swab and two hours of giving blood to be a donor.

The American Cancer Society’s Community Relationship Manager Dorothy Nelson said bringing education back to the relay was a main goal for this year’s event. She’s hoping Annette’s story will bring more attention to the finding bone marrow donors.

“She’s there to be an inspiration,” Nelson said.

Annette said getting a diagnosis of cancer is scary, causing people to shut down.

“The word cancer makes everyone freak out. I think educating people helps them, even if they have cancer, because if they know what it is, they can actually approach it and deal with it. If you don’t know, you’ll be too scared to do anything,” Annette said.

Having a positive attitude is the most important thing when having cancer, Annette said.

“One way or another, everyone has a hard life. Letting it get you won’t get you anywhere.”

Fast Facts

What: Relay for Life of Clovis

When: 6 a.m. Friday through Saturday

Where: Ned Houk Park