At six feet and three inches tall, it’s easy to look up to Francisco “Cisco” Brito. The oldest brother of four siblings, Cisco has always set a great example for the little eyes in his family. So when the devastating news of Cisco’s leukemia came, the impact sent shockwaves through the entire clan.
It all started in 2018 when Cisco thought he had contracted an eye infection. His concerned mother, Maricela, took him to the doctor. The prescribed antibiotics did nothing to lower Cisco’s fever. “We went back and forth about five times and kept hearing it was an infection. But he kept getting worse,” recalled Maricela.
After multiple visits, Francisco started to convulse right there at the clinic. His seizure lasted 90 seconds. Cisco was sitting by his mother when it happened, and she immediately called for emergency transportation. “After a couple of hours of bloodwork, the ER doctor let us know that she suspected leukemia,” said Cisco.
At that point, the family had a tough choice to make – which hospital to trust with Cisco’s critical care. “It was then that I was given a choice of hospitals in Miami or Tampa. We ultimately chose Golisano Children’s Hospital to stay close to home,” said Cisco.
Located in Fort Myers, the recovery rates at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida surpass the national average. The exceptional care provided by the team of doctors, nurses, and support staff is aligned with the highest standards at nationally known cancer centers.
Without Golisano Children’s Hospital, the close-knit Brito family would have been separated as Cisco and his mother traveled across the state for care. “Staying close to home was important for not only me, but also for Cisco – so that he could be with his brothers and sisters,” said Maricela.
Mom’s protective instincts payed off as bloodwork led to Cisco’s eventual diagnosis of leukemia, confirmed by Dr. Nicholson at Golisano Children’s Hospital. And then real work began.
“Believe me, treatments have not been easy for Cisco, or for us. He’s not had a normal experience,” Maricela explained. “Cisco has gone through a lot. Everything that was supposed to help made him sick. He has had some bad reactions to the chemotherapy and medications, so there were lots of hospitalizations.”
Despite it all, Cisco formed deep and lasting bonds with many of the doctors on his care team. “They are an amazing team for sure,” said Cisco. “Prior to my diagnosis, I was very fearful of the doctor. Going there made me feel safe and cared for. Even through the really tough times, they made everything easier.”
During some of Cisco’s treatments, the Brito family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House located right next door. This made it easier for Maricela to balance the family’s needs against Cisco’s healthcare regimen. “The Ronald McDonald House is a great partner to Golisano Children’s Hospital. We are thankful for the family room where we could rest during those longer hospital stays, to be close to Cisco,” said Maricela.
It’s also where the family met Illeny Farese. Illeny serves as the volunteer manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida. “Illeny always had a room for us and always is trying so hard to make sure we are comfortable and have everything we need,” said Maricela. “She met Cisco and became close, sharing his story. Illeny and Cisco bonded.”
Their special friendship has inspired Illeny to face the razor and shave her head in support of the young cancer patients who are courageously battling childhood cancer. “September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Participating in Clips for Cancer is a small way to bridge my passion for our charity, our families, and our hospital partner, Golisano Children’s Hospital. And I will have a very brave young man by my side,” said Illeny with a smile.
“We met at the Ronald McDonald House a few years ago, where Cisco and his family made a lasting impression,” she recalled. “Meeting families at their most vulnerable moments, when they are often going through unique situations, it is impossible not to feel the impact of their stories,” she said.
“Nothing feels better than reassuring families that we are here to help ease their worries through such challenging days in their child’s life,” said Illeny.
Witness this unique friendship in action on Friday, Sept. 25 during this year’s virtual Clips for Cancer fundraiser. Francisco will shave Illeny’s head to help raise funds and awareness of Barbara’s Friends – Golisano Children’s Hospital’s cancer fund.
Barbara’s Friends has a 25-year history of helping kids with cancer and life-threatening blood disorders. To date, Barbara’s Friends has helped more than 8,000 children, including young adults up to age 30. Research has shown these teens and young adults have a 30% higher success rate when treated under a pediatric protocol.
“I know the impact that Barbara’s Friends has had on my experience at Golisano Children’s Hospital, and I hope to raise awareness for the many children who continue to battle pediatric cancer,” said Cisco. “Without the people behind Barbara’s Friends and the foundation, my family wouldn’t have what we have. They have helped us a lot, so of course I’m going to give back to my community.”
Show your support for Illeny and Cisco and help them meet their fundraising goal at https://justgiving.com/campaign/clips2020.