Senior Yasmin Chavez faces cancer, continues to fight back

Calli Haramaras, co-features editor

Senior Yasmin Chavez saw soccer as her passion – she has been playing for the past 10 years of her life, and is currently committed to play at North Central College next year. However, her future as a player was put in jeopardy when she was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2014.

The symptoms first started appearing this past fall when Chavez was playing club soccer and inexplicably felt light headed, a tightness in her chest and bulging veins in her neck. After persistent symptoms, Chavez was admitted to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago around 12 a.m. on Dec. 18, 2014. What Yasmin and her mother, Yuridia, originally dismissed as allergies or the start of pneumonia turned out to be a nine by four centimeter tumor in Yasmin’s chest, ultimately causing a blood clot in one of the largest arteries in her heart.

“I think we were scared at first because it was the unknown,” Yuridia said. “We didn’t know why we were there. And even in the back of our minds you hear cancer and you think the worst. And it was just like how? She’s an athlete. She has all these things that she wants to do. Why now?”

Upon their arrival at Lurie’s, Yasmin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Diffused Large B-Cell Lymphoma Cancer. In addition to the tumor, the lymph nodes in Yasmin’s stomach were also swollen, indicating cancer. According to Yuridia, the doctors at Lurie’s were confident about Yasmin’s prognosis and believed it was all treatable.

Like her mother, the diagnosis left Yasmin feeling shocked. According to Yasmin, her diagnosis made her feel like she lost control of her fate.

“I was just in panic [mode],” Yasmin said. “I’m used to being in control of everything and then once you [are faced] with something like [cancer], you’re no longer in control.”

In attempts to tackle the tumor head on, Yasmin was scheduled for five rounds of chemotherapy and steroids. Although the doctors originally anticipated her treatment to take a year and half, Yasmin’s body responded well to the chemotherapy, and her tumor shrank to nearly half it’s size after the first round, according to Yuridia.

During the beginning of her treatments, Yasmin opted to stay home from school; however, Yasmin eventually decided to return to school and to the support of her friends.

“[Eventually] I was like, ‘Ok, I’m done. I’m done being in pain,’” Yasmin said. “If I’m going to be miserable, I’d rather be miserable with my friends around me, cheering me up and not focusing on the bad.”

Yasmin explained that her friends and family have been a wonderful support system during her treatment — without them, she would have found it difficult to push forward. According to senior Vanessa Aguayo, a friend of Yasmin’s, she believes that Yasmin’s determination and bravery will ultimately push her through.

“[Over winter break] my dad would take me to see [Yasmin] three to four times a week,” Aguayo said. “She asked me not to cry and to not tell her that everything will be okay, because everyone that [had] gone to see her [had] told her that, and everyone cried in front of her and she was tired of having to deal with crying people. As much as it broke my heart to see my best friend hospitalized and hooked up to so many machines, I tried my hardest not to cry and just to get her mind off of the whole thing.”

With the main goal of getting back on the soccer field, Yasmin has found motivation and support through her teammates and coaches. According to Seong Bong Ha, head soccer coach, the team has fundraisers planned for this season, including a game scheduled for April 11 against GBN, where both teams will be wearing special jerseys to honor Yasmin. Having known Yasmin for four years, Ha explains that he has no doubts that Yasmin will be able to overcome this challenge.

“Even with the highest highs and the lowest lows, [Yasmin] maintains such strength that is unquestionably her fuel in defeating this cancer,” Ha said. “If you really know Yasmin, you know she can do this, beat this, and come out on the other end, stronger than ever.”

Not only does Ha believe that Yasmin will be able to beat cancer, he also said that she will soon be back on the field, playing like her old self again.

“I look forward to seeing Yasmin playing for us very soon,” Ha said. “Simply, can’t wait for her to put a ball in the back of the net and jump into the arms of another teammate.”

Although she has had days of weakness and felt like giving up, Yasmin has continuously found strength in those around her. Despite the life-changing events of these past few months, Yasmin believes this experience has had a profound affect on her mentality, and is grateful for that change in view.

“[Before being diagnosed with cancer], I thought I was invincible,” Yasmin said. “I had this big ego, and thought I was untouchable, but this just really humbled me.”

After four rounds of chemotherapy, Yasmin’s most recent scans show that while the tumor has shrunk significantly, there is still some of the tumor left. At this time, her doctors are unsure whether it is still a live tumor or dead tissue left over; a biopsy in the coming weeks will confirm. If it is dead tissue, Yasmin will stay on track with a fifth and final round of chemotherapy. If the tumor is still growing, doctors are confident they can kill it with two more rounds of chemotherapy. The scans also proved that the chemotherapy has successfully killed all other cancerous cells in her body thus far.