Nine-year-old Miranda Gloria’s favorite color is gold, not just because it’s the color of the sun, but because it reminds her of the strength and support she had when she fought cancer twice.
Gold represents all childhood cancers, and in observance of September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, DHR Health hosted a drive-through Parade of Gold on Saturday evening.
The Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance was filled with cars adorned with gold ribbons and balloons — each with a family with a child who claimed a victory over cancer.
Local fire trucks, ambulances and police cars ornamented with golden decorations lined the driveway, along with first responders, Edinburg councilman Juan “Johnny” Garcia, and Edinburg High School’s cheer team holding yellow posters. DHR staff donning bumblebee costumes cheered and handed out gift bags as the young warriors drove by.
Miranda’s smile beamed the whole way through.
“I love telling people I am a survivor,” she said.
Miranda, a fourth grader at Memorial Elementary School in Weslaco, was diagnosed at DHR with leukemia, a cancer of bone marrow and blood, in 2015 when she was 5 years old.
She was declared cancer-free after an eight-month battle, but it came back in 2018. Since the cancer was caught at an early stage this time around, after a bone marrow transplant two months after the diagnosis, she claimed her cancer-free life again.
Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy for children, with more than 15,000 children being diagnosed in the U.S. every year. It is estimated that one in every 285 children in the nation will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.
She doesn’t remember much about her days in the hospital, just that “there was a room of where there were lots of toys and games, but then another room of where there was medicine and machines.”
Miranda, before the COVID-19 pandemic, would often visit other children fighting their own cancer battles, and she would tell them that just like there are fun rooms and scary rooms, there are good days and bad days. “I tell them to stay strong through all of it,” she said. “I tell them don’t be scared because its like a bad dream that you are going to wake up soon and everything is going to be better.”
Miranda has many plans for when she grows up. She has not decided whether she wants to be a photographer, artist, math teacher or nurse. She recently got a trophy at school for math, and knows that with the determination she had to fight cancer twice, she can accomplish much more.
Joey Hinojosa, the client relations director for Life Star EMS Inc. and St. Michael’s ambulances, was at the event. Through the pandemic, he said the work of local paramedics has been seemingly endless, sometimes working 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. shifts, transporting up to 15 patients a day across cities.
But he said the children he came to celebrate were his heroes.
“The amount of bravery those kids have, going through something that they probably don’t even really understand, it’s important that they know that we think they are heroes,” Hinojosa said. “These kiddos fought it and survived it. You want to do something for them, as much as you want to fight that for them, but you can’t. So all you can do is provide that moral support.”
As families drove by, he along with his team passed out toys donated by both ambulance companies to the children.
Eva Perez cheered and waved to families as they drove by, but could not help tearing up, thinking of how much she longed to join them.
Four years ago, Perez gave birth to her daughter, Avery Grace at DHR, who was diagnosed with cancer nearly the minute she was born. She had her first round of chemotherapy before she was a day old.
After five weeks at DHR’s neonatal intensive care unit, Avery Grace was transported to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died exactly on her 6-month birthday.
“I always knew that babies could be born sick, but it was not something I was expecting, I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for that,” Perez said, EHS’s varsity cheerleading coach.
Since losing her daughter, Perez has been a part of the Greater Gold Foundation, an organization that raises funds and awareness for childhood cancer, because she knows how important support from others is when having to care for a sick child.
“Helping out here at events like this is very dear for me,” she said. “I want to bring light to this cause and situation so that other people could know what other families go through and so we can give them hope.”
Wearing a golden cape, 9-year-old Madison Flores stood through her car’s sunroof through the parade, holding up a poster that read “I beat cancer.”
San Juan native Madison was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 4 years old, just a few months after she started pre-K. Her mother, Banesa Flores, said at the time, she was worried about having to explain to her daughter about the treatments and medications, and would pray for the right words to tell Madison.
She was surprised by how brave Madison was.
“Even with her little bald head, she was still wanting to put on her little make up and take pictures and selfies,” Banesa said. “She was so very confident. I wondered if she would want a wig, but she knew she was beautiful and was rocking her baldness.
“She is our hero, she just shows us that strength comes in all ages and different sizes, and that even somebody at 4 years old can be an example to us about how to keep faith.”