Kerry Chan/Daily Journal
Nessie Obando wants to learn karate and win a taekwondo trophy like her father Efrain Obando Sr.
Sitting on the floor in front of a coffee table scattered with pictures, Maria Obando carefully organizes photos of her daughter Vanessa from when she was 5 and going through chemotherapy to treat lymphoblastic lymphoma.
Nessie was diagnosed Oct. 12, 2009, and the images of her frail body, dark-set eyes and gaunt smile is in stark contrast to the now lively 8-year-old with dark silky long hair, girlish smile and eyes that shine through her glasses.
“I’m in third grade now,” said Vanessa Obando, who also goes by Nessie. “My favorite subject is mostly math and science.”
Nessie’s mother Maria Obando is selecting photos to place on a poster board to display at an event organized by the family, to celebrate Nessie's “First Year Remission Milestone” and raise money for The Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Greater Bay Area.
“We’re celebrating her, being in remission for a year and at the same time we’re paying it forward, giving whatever proceeds we get to Make-A-Wish,” said Maria Obando.
In 2009, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the Obando family with an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla.
Nessie, Maria, her father Efrain Sr., sister Veronica, 17, and brother Efrain Jr., 15, all said the trip was a gift that reminded them of how a normal, healthy family joins together to have fun.
“You get to forget almost everything for that little moment and feel like you are actually human,” said Efrain Obando Sr.
On the day Efrain Sr. took Nessie to the local emergency room, she was having trouble breathing. They initially assumed that she was experiencing a symptom similar to the older children, who both have asthma.
For four days, Nessie — underwent test after test — was poked and prodded until a biopsy finally revealed her diagnosis of T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Maria Obando. “It’s like a hurricane, all your thoughts and everything is just a blur. You don’t know what the future holds for this child because of the diagnosis that she was given.”
Efrain Obando Sr. said he just could not speak and tried to put on a brave face to be strong for Nessie so she would not be scared.
Lymphoblastic lymphoma is an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in which too many lymphoblasts, (immature white blood cells) are found in the lymph nodes and the thymus gland, according to National Cancer Institute. The disease is most commonly found in teenagers and young adults and leaves the patient susceptible to viruses and infections.
“You tend to become a germaphobe because she becomes so immunosuppressed that there are certain times where I can’t have my family over because she’s so sick or [was] in the hospital,” said Maria Obando.
While most children her age were playing at parks and playgrounds, Nessie was going through biopsies, chemotherapy, spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations and surgical procedures.
Maria Obando said it was a tough time and during those three years it was like a roller coaster.
On Oct. 18, 2012, exactly three years and six days from the date she was officially diagnosed, doctors declared that Nessie is cancer-free.
Nessie is able to do everything that a normal girl can do, except that she has to wear foot braces and go through physical therapy for an unspecified amount of time. The illness enfeebled the tendons above her ankles, which causes her to stand and walk on her toes.
Despite the indisposition, Nessie still enjoys playing basketball and hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and learn martial arts.
Like most families with kids, Nessie's siblings, Veronica and Efrain Jr. find any opportunity to poke fun and tease each other. Veronica said that it was something that never changed but in the end they always have “each other’s back.”
The Obanda family said they would be taking turns serving their guests and supporters a reasonably priced, $6 breakfast. More than 75 percent of the proceeds will go toward Make-A-wish foundation.
The event is Oct. 19 and will be held at Applebee’s in Redwood City.