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A ‘sweet, sweet girl’ in the fight of her life

By Joan Hadac

Your correspondent in Clearing and Garfield Ridge

(708) 496-0265 • [email protected]

I want to tell you a bit about a Clearing native, Emily Zambrano, who is going through the fight of her life.

She was 16 years old when she found out she had osteosarcoma, bone cancer in children. Her diagnosis came in October 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic. She was a junior at Kennedy High School.

You see, doctors found a tumor growing on Emily’s lower spine after she went to the emergency room after experiencing extreme pain. The pain would radiate from her lower back down her right leg.

As we all know, cancer is a hellacious disease that causes physical and emotional distress not only to its victim, but also to the rest of the family as well. Then the family also has to face financial hardship as well. One obstacle after another has to be overcome.

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Emily Zambrano and her mom in a hospital room. –Supplied photo

Emily’s dad and mom, Jose Luis Zambrano and Maria Elena Zambrano, have taken on this fight right along side her. Her sister, Imelda, has been there as well.

I talked to her aunt, Sonia Ponce-Zambrano, recently about the challenges facing Emily and her family, her whole family. Sonia told me her family, while keeping in touch with Emily through Skyping and other types of applications that allow the callers to see each other, Emily’s extended family could not see her in person because of the pandemic.

“The biggest challenge was that I couldn’t offer support because of COVID,” Sonia said.

That means Sonia could not be beside her brother, Jose Luis, as he sat day after day beside Emily’s hospital bed, or be with Emily as she fought her way through multiple surgeries, chemo treatments and long hospital stays. Emily’s dad had to give up his job so he could take care of her.

Sadly, Emily had to spend her 17th birthday in the hospital.

Sonia and the rest of the family couldn’t be with Maria Elena who worked long hours because she carried the health insurance for the family.

“Our family is extremely close and the majority of the family has not seen Emily in person for over a year, For us not to be able to be with her was literally torture,” Sonia told me.

That changed on earlier this month when the whole family gathered at the Branding Iron in Bridgeview for a fundraiser for Emily and her family. The family held the fundraiser to help pay for Emily’s medical expenses and the family’s living expenses.

The highlight for the family was seeing Emily, who was able to attend the benefit.

While the turnout was lower than hoped for, Sonia was happy with the results.

“It went really well. Between the admission tickets and raffles, we raised $5,000,” she said.

That might sound like a nice amount, but the challenges are still coming and many are financial. After spending a lot of time in Lurie Children’s hospital for chemo treatments to shrink the tumor, there were three surgeries at Northwestern University Medical Center to remove the tumor. The bills are still coming in.

Then there is the challenge of making their house accessible so Emily can get in and out of the house. The family was told by various city agencies that a permit for a temporary, long-term ramp would take about six months, while a handicap parking sign would take about a year.

According to Sonia, Emily has had a few accidents getting in and out of the house in her wheelchair because of the lack of a ramp. After dealing with the lack of response from the city, the Zambranos looked into another, private option for getting in and out of the house and the cheapest one was $7,000, according to Sonia.

While the surgeries may have eliminated the tumor and Emily is in remission, she has more to go through. She has physical therapy three times a week to help strengthen her legs so she can walk again.

Emily’s Aunt Sonia said she admires Emily for her kind nature and strong spirit.

“Emily is a ray of sunshine. When you talked to her you would say to her, ‘I love you’ and she would respond ‘I love you more.’ She has a very beautiful spirit. She is a sweet, sweet girl. She’s a Daddy’s girl. She’s also strong, a fighter. She didn’t play into becoming a victim,” Sonia remembered.

Sonia continued, “The nurses said that Emily was such a sweet girl and they loved having her as a patient. She was always smiling. She’s a toughie.”

If you want to help Emily and her family with expenses, you can visit their page at gofundme.com. Any and all donations are welcome and appreciated.

Neighborhood News

The St. Jane de Chantal Senior Club of St. Faustina Parish has changed their meeting date. The group will meet at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 15 in the school lunchroom, 5201 S. McVicker. The group will not be meeting on Monday, Nov. 1 because it is All Saints Day.

All deceased members of the club will be honored at the 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 Mass. All current members are being encouraged to attend.

The Senior Club will be celebrating Christmas this year at 11 a.m. with lunch being served at noon Monday, Dec. 6 at Mayfield Banquets, 6072 S. Archer. The cost for a full family-style dinner and a bit of holiday fun is $30 per member and $35 for guests. For more information and reservations, call Carol Lewandowski at (773) 586-9572.

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Joan Hadac

The next meeting of the Clearing Civic League will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9 at Hale Park, 6258 W. 62nd St. The guest speaker will be Bedford Park Mayor Dave Brady. He will be discussing the event center that was built across the street from the new Hancock High School. He will also give an update on the proposed bike path. Everyone is invited to attend the meeting.

Twenty-third Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares is hosting her annual food drive through Friday, Nov. 19. Non-perishable food items may be dropped off from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the 23rd Ward Office, 6247 S. Archer.

Thanks, Marie Zilka, for sharing CCL news with me.

Finally, the St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers at Two Holy Martyrs Parish are hosting a Bundle Weekend on Nov. 6-7.

Friendly faces will be at St. Rene Church, 64th and New England, from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 and 7 a.m. to noon Sunday, Nov. 7 to accept your donations of pots and pans and other kitchen items including coffee pots, bed linens such as comforters, sheets, blankets, pillowcases and throws, children and adult clothing and shoes and home appliances such as small lamps, artwork, antique dishes and more.

They can’t accept furniture, electronics or baby items (such as car seats). Anything you can donate is appreciated. Tax receipts for donations are available.

Your donations will eventually end up in the St. Vincent De Paul thrift stores. The closest one is in Orland Park near 159th and Harlem. For more information call this thrift store at (708) 263-0834.

See you next week.

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