Five years ago today, a Mesa family sat in Phoenix Children's Hospital while doctors spent 14 hours trying to extract tumors from the brain stem of their youngest child.
Today, Rosie Garcia, now 20, uses art to express her thanks and continue her healing. For the second year in a row, Rosie's drawing is featured on a holiday card created as a fundraiser for the hospital's foundation.
"That was a long Christmas Eve," Rosie's mom, Jackie, says. "They removed 80 percent of the tumor. ... She came through better than we ever anticipated. She lost her right side. But she's left handed. She learned to rewalk. She learned to retalk. She's doing everything we thought she would never do because of Phoenix Children's and her determination."
Rosie's tumors were found in March 2005. An athlete, Rosie had taken up running and was complaining about backaches. But her mom thought it was normal since she was new to the sport. But then Rosie's arm started moving uncontrollably one morning.
The family took her to a local hospital where a CT scan showed Rosie had two golfball-size tumors side by side on her brain stem.
She was transferred to Phoenix Children's Hospital. Doctors immediately placed a shunt in her head to drain fluid from her brain. She spent nearly a year in the hospital, her mom said.
Rosie turned to art while she underwent treatment. Now, her mom keeps colored pencils, markers, crayons and paper all over the house. Rosie finds inspiration in everyday events.
"I just like doing art, especially during the holidays. You get to express yourself more," she said. "It's a big part of the healing process. It helps you to get (out) feelings, emotions. You just kind of forget about your sickness when you're drawing."
She finds ideas everywhere in December.
"Like going Christmas caroling or going up to Payson to play in the snow. That's where I get my inspiration from, watching TV movies about the holidays," she said.
This year, she drew a snowman.
"Actually, it was the movie ‘Frosty the Snowman,' but I wanted to do it my way," she said.
Jackie says Rosie visits the hospital one to two times a month, including her monthly doctor visit. Doctors have told Rosie that her cancer isn't in remission, but it is "asleep," Jackie said.
During visits to the hospital, Rosie tries to see other patients. She also keeps in touch with others who went through treatments at Phoenix Children's the same time she did.
"She loves to meet other kids, to motivate them. She says, ‘I hope they see I'm still here, that I made it through the treatment.' Sometimes we talk to parents of newly diagnosed" cancer patients, Jackie says.
The card project is part of that, the Garcias say.
"People are so busy with their lives and their own families. You don't realize until you're in that situation what the cards mean and what it means to the family and the kids who draw them," Jackie says.
This wasn't the first time the Garcia family felt the effects of cancer. In July 2001, Jackie was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. She was in awe as her daughter went through her own chemotherapy and prepared for her risky surgery.
At times, Jackie says, it was Rosie consoling her.
"As an adult going through chemo it was hard. These kids, they don't complain. They always have a smile on their face. They always say we're going to be OK. We need to learn from these kids."
This Christmas, Jackie and her husband of 29 years, Robert, will join Rosie and their four children and their spouses at a daughter's home in the East Valley. The couple lost a son, Robert Jr., when he was 18 months old.
Turning to Rosie, Jackie says through tears, "The only thing I need is her. I need nothing else. I gain strength from her every day and all the other kids you see going through this. They are so amazing. I can't say enough about them."