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Teen battles cancer for family (video)

By chirst
April 9, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated April 9, 2013 at 11:10 p.m.

Jessica Villarreal, 17, sits with her mother, Veronica Villarreal, on the couch in their home as they recall happy memories of last Christmas with the family. Jessica was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare form of cancer, when she was 11, and doctors said she likely wouldn't live through the New Year. Since then, doctors have found an experimental radiation treatment that is expected to prolong her life and ease the pain of headaches caused by the brain tumors.

To help

•  Donate to the Guardians of the Ribbon at First Victoria National Bank. All donations to Jessica Villarreal need to be specified at the bank so they will be sent to the family.

Guardians of the Ribbon upcoming Event

• What: Trinity Shores Assisted Living giving honor to cancer survivors, cancer patients and to those who volunteer

• When: Noon-2 p.m. Friday

• Where: 201 Trinity Shores Drive, Port Lavaca

Her family opened their Christmas presents early because the Victoria high school student wasn't expected to live through the holidays.

Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when she was in fifth grade, Jessica Villarreal found out in October that the treatment she was receiving from Driscoll Children's Hospital Cancer & Blood Disorders Center in Corpus Christi was no longer working.

Despite the prognosis, 17-year-old Jessica was determined to have more time with her family.

So in March, she started a 14-day set of high-dosage brain radiation treatments. She and her mom, Veronica Villarreal, drove to Corpus Christi every day for the three-minute brain treatments.

"It was scary at first because I didn't want to lose my hair again. It was hard work to grow it back the last time," Jessica explained.

But it was a fear she quickly overcame, choosing to color her hair bright shades of red, orange, white and green - representing the birthstones of her family - before shaving it all off.

Death wasn't a fear she considered, she said, because she has already faced that.

Dr. Gerard Voorhees, radiation oncologist at the Corpus Christi Cancer Center, said they started the radiation mostly to give Jessica a better quality of life.

With the brain tumors causing increasing headaches, Voorhees said shrinking the tumors through radiation could help alleviate the intense pain, allowing the teenager to be more active.

"It is all about her quality of life, and we felt that if we could control the disease in her brain, then the time she did have would be better quality time," Voorhees said. "It will help her survive a little longer but not for any great length of time."

Now, however, Jessica is concerned the radiation may have been a mistake.

"I don't even want to leave anymore. I just want to lay there and do nothing," Jessica said.

Jessica, not even moving her hands as she sat still on the coach, explained that the fatigue is overwhelming.

Her mom said she only sees Jessica come out of her room when she has to go to the bathroom or to eat.

And when the family of eight decided to take a trip to Sea World to celebrate the end of Jessica's radiation in late March, she never left her wheelchair.

"I don't want to go on anymore trips because that was tiring, way too tiring," Jessica said. "I don't have the energy for it."

Jessica hopes she overcomes the fatigue soon so she can spend more time awake, at least.

Voorhees said Jessica should start sleeping less in a few weeks.

"I think she is mature beyond her years. You can imagine when you are in your teenage years and are told that you are dying and handling it with such acceptance - she is really just trying to live her life to its fullest and making the most of her life. She is just a sweet, good person," Voorhees said.

Although there is no cure for Jessica and she is on hospice care, her mother said they will always pray for healing.

"We are still hoping for a miracle. Not so much a cure - but a miracle. But we are still at the point of what God decides, God decides," her mother said. "I thank God that she is still with us compared to where they thought she would be at this point."

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