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Building An Army In Ecuador

[color-box color=”gray”][dropcap]Join[/dropcap] Canadian Expat, Dodie Schadlich, in her weekly column for “Off the Beaten Path”.   Read on to hear about a story close to the authors heart.  [/color-box]

It was the most amazing thing to watch compassion in its truest form.

Jennifer rose out of bed, in pain, to greet us.  Jennifer, the warrior, is a 13-year-old girl that has been fighting for her life for 6 years.

I watched the beautiful Virginia, a stranger, reach out to her and massage Palo Santo oil into her temples, lavender oil into her feet and a cream with frankincense massaged into her neck.  I watched 20 minutes later as the pain melted away and a smile appeared on her face.

I saw compassion in action.  Was it the oils or was it the touch? Was it two strangers extending kindness that eased the pain? Once her headache passed, Jennifer and I made tea together, from the leaves of the Guanabana tree, moringa, ginger, and stevia.

It is in these moments that I cherish  my life in Ecuador.

Virginia and I did not cure her, but we shared in her pain for a brief time and we presented to her some tools to take some control back of her life

It has been an emotional couple of weeks as I wrap my head around yet another sad story.  I am pretty sure as I put these words to paper, a couple tears will fall for me.  That is ok, not all articles about Ecuador can be about tourism and the cheap price of vegetables.

Real life is not always packaged with bows and butterflies.

I recently told someone that there are times when I want to lay down in a fetal position with my thumb in my mouth. The sad stories sometimes weigh in heavy.
Then I have to say to myself:  stop whining Dodie, pull up your big girl panties, dust yourself off and move forward.  I have so much love and support in my life, it keeps me going.
You see, although Ecuador is paradise to so many of us, it is not always paradise to everyone. Real life happens, people can go hungry,  people are struck with illness, people fight to live against all odds.
When you meet someone like Jennifer and her parents,  you realize that your own problems are very small in comparison and you suddenly feel a little silly complaining about the price you were charged for almuerzo or how you were gringo priced an extra $1.00 for the taxi. Maybe, just maybe, he has his own Jennifer at home.
I have seen and even participated in large, and sometimes heated debates on the extra service charged on meals, and how ethical a practice this may be…while this little girl, and many others, struggle to live.
Life has a way of putting things in perspective, doesn’t it?
Jennifer has been fighting a brain tumor for 6 years.  3 operations later, the last one being in Oct 2016, a team of 7 doctors were unable to remove it all.
I won’t go into all her medical struggles here but I have added additional information about her condition and some of the difficulties this family is facing on this website built on Mothers Day in her honour and with the parent’s permission. You can check out the website here: Join Jennifer’s Army
I would like to share the part of the story, that to me, makes this unique to Ecuador; the good, the bad and the ugly.

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The Good:
She has been receiving care from the Roberto E Gilbert Pediatric Hospital in Guayaquil and Solca (the Cancer hospital). The parents are very happy with the medical attention they obtain.  The care they receive is free from both centres; the surgeries, the chemo, and radiation therapies included.
They have a deep faith in God; both parents are committed to their family and to seeing Jennifer through this struggle.  Their pastors, Fernando and Gloria, pray much, give comfort and guidance as they can.

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The Bad:  
In my experience, pain control in this country is not handled in the same manner as may be found in Canada or the US.    Jennifer has a tumour deep inside her brain, too deep and intertwined to remove all of it.    This means she has pain, deep pain in her head and all they have prescribed is Paracetamol.  Which is the equivalent to Tylenol.
She travels to and from Guayaquil from La Libertad Monday to Friday for radiation treatments.  They go back and forth between her Pediatric Hospital and Solca Cancer Care every day; they are gone for at least 7 hours a day.
Because of this, they cannot always have their restaurant open to earn money and they often have no one to watch the 3 younger children; 11, 8 and 4 years old.
Regardless of what has been going on, this intelligent young lady has kept up her studies, however,  on Monday, May 15 they removed her from school. Her eyesight is failing and her headaches are increasing so they decided to wait until she finishes this round of radiation next month before returning her to school.
The disappointment on her face tells me she knows that finishing this year may not be possible as she will be so far behind.  She desperately just wants to be normal, go to school, play with friends.

[color-box color=”gray”] The Ugly:

The other day, the whole family went without eating.  The only bit of rice they had left was bad, they were forced to throw it out.  Both parents, the very sick child, and her 3 younger sisters went to bed hungry. In 2017, in our world, the idea that someone can not eat, someone that needs intense nutrition to stay strong and is missing a meal is hard for me to process.
The family is  not able to open the restaurant as often as needed as they are in Guayaquil all week.  All their resources go into the travel expenses, supplements, and trying to maintain their vehicle to make the trip.
We were able to gather enough donations to give them $70 and 2 new tires as the ones they had were dangerously bald.  This will help them access treatment this week.
Regardless of my feelings about the current type of cancer treatments and its devastation on the body.  Regardless of what I would do or not do in this situation.   My role is not to judge it but to provide comfort and make connections and try to build her and her parents an army of supportive love and care to meet their very basic needs.
Right now, she shares a bed with her 3 sisters but as the treatment progresses, she really needs a private and quiet room.  She has pain and nausea and sharing a bed with 3 others makes recovery embarrassing and difficult.

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The only plan I could come up with quickly is to help build an army, Jennifer’s Army, because her battle is more difficult to win alone.  This young lady and I crossed paths for a reason.  I cannot help but feel, in the end, Jennifer will teach me some valuable lessons in life if I am open to learning them.  I will cherish this time with her, however, long or short it may be.
To find out more information:  please visit this website, share her story with your friends and family and learn how you can help or simply send Jennifer some words of encouragement.  I will have English greetings translated for her. Join Jennifer’s Army here

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