Azlee Delgado Requena has a new T-shirt with a message that sums up her story — “I fought like a girl and won.”
Azlee, daughter of Somervell County residents Vanessa Delgado Requena and Edmundo Requena, had only turned 4 years old about two months before she was diagnosed as having cancer in December of 2017.
At that age she couldn’t have fully comprehended the unpleasant experiences she was about to go through for the next 2-plus years — chemotherapy treatments, hospital visits, IVs, nausea, body aches, dizziness and losing her hair.
When she went to public places like Walmart, she wore a cloth face mask for her own protection because the chemotherapy weakens the body’s immune system.
The now 6-year old Azlee and her family received fantastic news last week from her doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. The results of her final test showed that she is in remission from her acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“It felt unreal because it was such a long journey, and we thought we would never get to this point,” said Azlee’s mother, Vanessa, a 2010 Glen Rose High School graduate.
When she went with the family to places like Walmart, she covered up with a hat, while also wearing a face mask.
“She was embarrassed wearing a hat and a mask,” Vanessa said. “She thought people were staring at her. We told her never to listen to what other people said, and we avoided taking her out.”
The happy news from Azlee’s doctors followed up a separate joyous event that the family was blessed with in August — the birth of another daughter, Alexa.
The oldest daughter, Analeigh, is a third-grader who will be 10 in September. Analeigh, of course, is better able to comprehend what her sister has been suffering through.
“The older one does understand what’s going on,” Vanessa said. “They get along very well. They have a close bond.”
Vanessa said of Azlee, “She understands that she’s sick, and she understands she has to take chemo and oral medications. She understands that she has to do all those things to get healthy again.”
Fortunately, Azlee has gotten this far with no serious complications or setbacks.
A MOTHER’S THOUGHTS
Vanessa said that at one time she actually blamed herself as a mother “for so many things,” and was thinking “that I should have done something I didn’t do.”
And, she concluded, “It was horrible.”
She said that some of her thoughts included, “What did I do wrong? What happened for her to get this (cancer)? Her doctor told her, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Her mother said that faith she and her husband have in God helped them through the tough times.
“We’ve always been waiting for this day,” she said. “We’ve gotten closer (to God). We’ve always been believers. Our faith has gotten a lot stronger since her diagnosis. We’ve seen that she’s getting a miracle done.”
Azlee’s doctors told her parents early on that there was a 97 percent chance of success using chemotherapy.
“Each kiddo responds differently,” Vanessa said. “She responded good. We follow other kids that had cancer. One of them had problems.”
Azlee will receive an oral chemo treatment at home on May 27. Then there will be one more chemotherapy infusion at Cook Children’s, June 22.
At some point after the chemotherapy side effects fade away, Azlee will finally return to a condition she hasn’t fully experienced in about 2-1/2 years.
“It’s starting to feel a little bit normal,” Vanessa said. “She still wakes up sick, and it worries us. But we’re looking forward to that day.”
Azlee is a bit shy with strangers asking questions — including the well-meaning reporter who inadvertently made her cry while trying to take her photo for the May 4, 2018 edition of the Glen Rose Reporter. That article featured her in the early stages of her battle.
But on Tuesday afternoon at Heritage Park she was able — with a little help from her mom — to express some of her feelings about putting the treatment behind her.
“I felt happy because I’m always scared wearing the mask,” Azlee said, referring to her lumbar puncture treatments, in which doctors inject a chemo drug into the fluid of the spinal cord.
Her mother explained that the mask was the one doctors use to give her relaxing nitrous oxide to make the procedure a little less uncomfortable.
“We would always tell her to take deep breaths,” her mother said, noting that sometimes she dozed off from the nitrous.
After Azlee’s hair began to fall out because of the chemo, her mother encouraged her by saying she would grow “prettier hair” later on. They talked to each other about that again just last week after receiving the good test report. Her hair is making a comeback, and Azlee does not intend to stop it.
“She said she would not want to cut her hair anymore,” Vanessa said.
Azlee will be able to celebrate her seventh birthday, on Oct. 16. She is now in kindergarten, studying at home online during the COVID-19 school shutdown. She is scheduled to begin regular school as a first grader this fall.
She said she likes making new friends, and is looking forward to playing with them on the playground at Glen Rose Elementary School.
First, however, she is hoping the swimming pool at Oakdale Park will open before long and that she will be given the medical go-ahead to enjoy one of her favorite fun things.
“I like to slide down into the water,” Azlee said.
That sort of fun may be delayed because the chemo makes her sensitive to being in the sun.
Vanessa’s mother, Eva Delgado, and sister, Isela Delgado, have been serving as caregivers for Analeigh and Alexa when Azlee’s parents have had to take her to Fort Worth for treatments and other medical appointments. Other family members have also provided similar support.
Thanks to the Ronald McDonald House, the family members had a place to stay overnight free of charge when necessary, during Azlee’s stay at Cook Children’s. And, naturally, the doctors, nurses and other staff members are geared toward working with children.
“All of the people there, they are so kind,” Vanessa said. “They became families to us. They also have a life specialist who was always there to comfort her.”
The family never set up a Go Fund Me account to help with their expenses. Vanessa explained that they didn’t do so because they were so traumatized in the early stages of her journey. They did, however, receive financial help through charitable foundations associated with the Cook Children’s.
After the diagnosis, a family friend set up an account for Azlee at First Financial Bank in Glen Rose. Vanessa noted that the family appreciates what people did to hep.
“Thank you for all the support from the community and our friends to help with our journey,” she said. “It helped a lot.”