A local mom is living out any parent’s worst fear, grieving the loss of her young daughter to cancer.
Wednesday, a fundraiser is planned in Fort Pierce to help her pay off the mounting medical bills from trying every possible treatment to buy her daughter more time.
Rocio Rodriguez also wants to bring attention to a shortage in a medication critical for treating pediatric cancer patients.
“She was a light. She was wild. She was a fire...She was just amazing. She completed our family,” said Rodriguez.
Her 2-year-old daughter, Julianna, began showing concerning symptoms around the beginning of the year.
“She started crying a lot, lost weight, lost her appetite, wasn’t sleeping. We didn’t know what was going on,” Rodriguez said.
It took more than a month for doctors to diagnose Julianna with an aggressive, rare cancer called neuroblastoma.
“She had a lot of complications, she had a lot of symptoms,” Rodriguez said.
The large tumor was found in her abdomen.
“It was pushing against her ribs, and it was all the way down to her hips,” Rodriguez explained.
Then, the tumors spread.
“When she developed the one in her head, that’s the one I think ultimately took her life,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez can find some comfort knowing she tried everything possible to help Julianna. There were countless doctor visits in different states. Julianna went through at least 5 rounds of chemotherapy.
“She was just so brave and strong through it all,” Rodriguez said.
One drug Rodriguez said doctors used in Julianna's treatment is called Vincristine. It is a chemotherapy drug made by just two companies, Pfizer and Teva pharmaceuticals.
Teva announced it would stop producing the drug this summer, now contributing to a shortage in the medication.
The FDA said Teva cited a business decision to discontinue the product.
“Not good business which translates to they’re not getting enough profit off of it,” Rodriguez feared.
Rodriguez worries the shortage could delay treatment, or worse, contribute to a child not beating their cancer fight.
“The thought of losing your kids because it’s not available is just unacceptable.”
In a statement, Pfizer said it is expediting production and expects to fully meet the market need by late October.
But Rodriguez says this is only a part of an even bigger problem. She says there is not enough research or treatment optionsfor pediatric cancer patients compared to adult cancer patients.
“Not a lot of funding goes for it. 4% of what the government allocates to the cancer fund goes to pediatric cancer,” Rodriguez said.
So, she is also doing her part to expand research, donating Julianna’s blood and biopsies for research, hoping to help find a cure for Julianna’s cancer.
HOW YOU CAN HELP JULIANNA’S FAMILY
A fundraiser is being held to help Rodriguez catch up on medical bills.
All proceeds from any purchase made at Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce Wednesday, October 23 will benefit the Rodriguez family.
Big Apple is located at 2311 S 35th Street Fort Pierce, FL 34981.
The fundraiser runs from 4pm-10pm.