East High School teen faces death, celebrates life

Dec. 21, 2012 at 6:21 a.m.
Updated Dec. 22, 2012 at 6:22 a.m.

Jessica Villarreal, 16, a junior at Victoria East High School, has been battling neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare cancer, since the fifth grade.

Jessica Villarreal, 16, a junior at Victoria East High School, has been battling neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare cancer, since the fifth grade.

Their home is decorated merrily for Christmas.

Hanging lights adorn the small white porch. Reindeer and snowmen wave to strangers driving by from the tidy yard.

Inside, pictures of the family of eight smile down from over the mantle, where a nativity scene silently proclaims the meaning of Christmas Day.

The presents under the little Christmas tree in the corner have already been opened - remote-controlled cars and rubber balls clutter the living room.

But not one person in the family, from the 18-month-old twins to the 19-year-old brother, found what they really wanted under the tree - a miracle.

"The doctors are telling her she doesn't have much time, but the way I see it, she could live another year or more. God is big, and she is a fighter, a big time fighter," said Juan Villarreal Sr., father of 16-year-old Jessica Villarreal.

Jessica, diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when she was in fifth grade, may not live through the year.

In October, the East High School junior found out the treatment she was receiving from Driscoll Children's Hospital Cancer & Blood Disorders Center in Corpus Christi was no longer working.

"We let them open presents early, that way, with her situation, she will be able to enjoy the stuff, just in case, you know, if she takes a turn," her mom said, struggling to explain the opened presents.

Jessica, a tomboy, loves working on cars with her dad, going to school and playing outside.

"She used to do a lot of things. We would work on motors and stuff, and she would help me put it together," her dad said, proud of his baby girl. "The way she is now, she can't do much. But she will still get a chair and sit out there with me."

Jessica can't do many of the things she enjoys most, even go to school, as she battles headaches from multiple brain tumors, fatigue and the side affects of the pain medicine.

"It makes me mad. I tell my mom all the time that it makes me mad that I can't do anything. I can't even pick up a watermelon anymore because of this. I can't do anything. I can't help my dad, my mom, help with the babies, driving," Jessica said, holding the hand of 19-month-old Jessenia, who is content to cuddle on the couch with her big sister.

Still, Jessica is determined to live the rest of her life, however many days, weeks or months it may be, to the fullest.

Her parents have taken her on trips to San Antonio to see car races and Austin to see her grandparents.

They are also throwing her a graduation party Sunday, after East High School presented her with her diploma and a cap and gown.

Jessica said she hopes all of her friends and teachers come to the graduation party at the Golden Gecko, so they can eat, dance and have a good time together.

Jessica said she isn't scared of dying, but she doesn't want to lose anymore time than necessary, which is why she takes as few pain killers as possible, since they make her sleepy.

If she spends her time sleeping, she is missing out on even more time, she said.

"She says she isn't scared, but she is. Who wouldn't be? We always tell her there is no reason to be scared because it happens to everybody - some soon, some later. But it is OK," her mom said, not understanding why her baby seems to be one of those destined to die young.

"I can't take her illness away, but I can give her life - go out and do what you want to do. You have to live every day as if it is your last, so that is what we do."



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