Sisters Amy and Emily believe they have two birthdays: the days they were born, and the days they were diagnosed with cancer before beginning treatment at CHOC.
Each day is met with equal celebration. Amy and Emily, ages 29 and 18, see the anniversary or their diagnosis – their cancerversary – as the day they began the long road toward health.
“We think that’s the day of them starting to get better,” says their mother, Denise Justiniano. “We made that day a good memory. We eat dinner together as a family and make a fun time out of it.”
Both women received treatment as children at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC. Amy spent six months in the hospital after being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2001. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, Emily still receives treatment at CHOC’s outpatient infusion clinic.
And today both women are moving forward: Emily graduated from high school last June and is now in her second semester at college. About seven months ago, Amy gave birth to her second daughter.
“The nurses and doctors at CHOC are amazing,” Amy says. “Not only do they offer the best medical care, but they are empathetic and caring, and offer emotional support in a way that you would expect only a friend to. If it weren’t for CHOC, I wouldn’t be here today. They made a huge difference in my life and helped me become the person that I am today.”
Watching two children battle cancer was heart-wrenching, but Denise credits CHOC staff and fellow families and patients with helping to ease the experience.
“When we first arrived at CHOC with Amy, everyone came out of their room as we were coming down the hall,” she says. “They’re were talking to us, patting us on the back. It was like a warm hug.”
And their time at CHOC made an impression on more than Amy’s and Emily’s health: Amy is a nurse at a local hospital, and Emily is pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner.
“For us, it was the nurses who made CHOC home for us and made it manageable and joked with us,” Denise says.
And CHOC’s impression has extended further into the Justiniano family: Inspired by the CHOC child life staff who helped her sisters cope with hospitalization, a third daughter, Sarah, volunteers at CHOC and is pursuing a career in the child life department.
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Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Center at CHOC
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the cancer specialty.