In their sparsely furnished living room, a shy, 2-year-old Naomi plays with a Hello Kitty puzzle with her 3-year-old brother, Divon.
The children’s mother, Priscilla Olivares, 23, just walked through the door from her new job at a call center. Now, she is busy tending to her third child, 7-month-old Rosemary.
Olivares and her three children share her parents’ three-bedroom Little Havana apartment along with three of Olivares’ siblings.
Olivares is happy her children, especially Naomi, are surrounded by family members and lots of love. In March, Naomi was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a soft-tissue tumor in her neck. Synovial sarcoma is rare in children — and especially rare in children as young as Naomi. The cause is unknown.
For children 18 or younger in the U. S. diagnosed with any type of cancer, less than 1 percent will be diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, according to Naomi’s doctor, Dr. Doured Daghistani, medical director of pediatric oncology at Baptist Children’s Hospital.
In his 30 years of practice, Daghistani said, Naomi was his youngest patient with the disease.
Today, Naomi’s tumor is in remission. But the family still has traumatic memories of the eight-month experience.
When Naomi went in for her first round of chemotherapy at Baptist, the Children’s Cancer Caring Center, a nonprofit that funds and supports cancer treatment for children, gave the toddler a doll, which she promptly named Baby.
The nonprofit nominated Naomi for Wish Book.
“She plays mommy with the little hospital baby they gave her,” said Olivares. “She puts diapers on her and then puts the baby in her sister’s crib. It’s funny.”
Naomi’s days are active, but, her mother said, she really wants to go to school.
“Every time I take Divon to preschool, she would want to stay, too,” said Olivares.
It would cost Olivares $115 a week to leave Naomi at Learn and Play Preschool in Doral, she said.
“I sign up for the program for us to get government help. But they don’t call us,” said Olivares. “I keep applying. And nothing. I can’t pay for two kids. “
She would love to get help with enrolling Naomi at Learn and Play. At her call center job, she makes about $291 a week after deductions, often working overtime, but paying rent and buying food quickly swallow up her paycheck.
She says she would like to go back to school, and maybe, eventually become a physician's assistant.
“It's a long shot, but it's not impossible,” she said.
She puts her own aspirations aside for now, so she can spend what little money she makes on her children.
“It’s not a luxury to go to school,” she said. “But for us, it kind of is.”
Buying clothes that fit her children is another “luxury” that Olivares cannot afford, as well as gasoline to use the 2006 Chevrolet Equinox that she shares with her mother and brother.
Olivares recently moved in with her parents after ending a two-year relationship with Naomi’s father in Homestead. She hopes she will be able to afford her own place next year, where the children will have more room to play.
“That would be a lot easier because Naomi goes crazy here with all the chaos,” said Olivares. “There are a lot of us here.”
The family feels blessed that Naomi is still with them. When she was first diagnosed, she had a 50-50 chance of survival. Olivares and the rest of the family grabbed at that chance and held tight.
An hour after surgery to remove a three-centimeter lump in Naomi’s neck, doctors at Baptist Children’s Hospital rushed back into the recovery room. A biopsy revealed that Naomi had a tumor.
Olivares did not know what to do. Cry? Pray? How will she tend to Divon while spending time with Naomi in the hospital? She was unemployed at the time, and six-months pregnant with Rosemary.
The 2-year-old went through six rounds of chemotherapy. After the second round, her shoulder-length black wavy hair started falling in patches.
“She used to sleep with me because I had to make sure she didn’t get a fever. I would constantly be waking up, making sure she is fine, she is not uncovered, she is warm,” said Olivares. “And I would wake up to my bed full of hair. It was scary.”
Now, the 2-year-old with the big brown eyes has short locks brushed to the side.
Naomi quickly picks up lines like ‘Time out!’ from Divon. The two race on their tricycles in the yard. Then, Naomi is off to play with Baby.
“My daughter is very nurturing, so I hope she goes into medicine,” said Olivares. “I just hope that my kids can go to school and become something, do something that they really love.”