|My Conversation with Juan Pablo|
Juan Pablo’s mother sat on the dirt floor of the courtyard of a half-built house in Arequipa Peru, carefully weaving a vibrant red and blue blanket. The colors of the blanket stood in contrast to the dusty concrete, corrugated metal, and piles of rubble that surrounded her. I had probably been in hundreds of houses just like it during the late 1990s, when I lived and worked in some of the poorest slums of Lima, Peru.
But in this house there was something different – a nine year old cancer survivor with a family that was full of hope for his future. I had never seen anything like that in Peru. Cancer treatment is simply not a luxury available to the average Peruvian.
Juan Pablo poked his head out from the blanket that covered the door to his room, where he had been watching one of his favorite TV shows. With heavy, reluctant steps, he broke away to greet the gringos that had come to visit him. I had never met Juan Pablo before that day. He seemed like any other nine year old. He was happy, full of life, and donned a toothy white smile.
But they tell me that the little boy I met that day was once very different. You may have seen pictures of Juan Pablo on Quechua Benefit’s Facebook page. Before his treatment began, he lived at Casa Chapi in the Peruvian highlands.
In February 2014, a doctor in Chivay misdiagnosed Juan Pablo with anemia. When his anemia treatment didn’t work, he became sullen and withdrawn. He lacked energy – a seeming impossibility for a nine year old boy – and didn’t even have the strength to play soccer with his classmates. Soon his arms began to swell and sprouted red spots. Then he began falling down and fainting. In May 2014, the doctor in Chivay decided to send him to Arequipa for further tests. There, Juan Pablo and his mother first heard the “C” word: Cancer. Leukemia, to be specific. Like so many other kids at Casa Chapi, Juan Pablo and his family didn’t have the means for him to live in Arequipa, let alone receive cancer treatment. Thanks to the generosity of Quechua Benefit’s donors, Quechua Benefit was able to arrange for Juan Pablo to receive the treatment that he needed. Juan Pablo immediately moved to the hospital in Arequipa, accompanied by his mother and 14 year old sister.
For 45 days, Juan Pablo stayed in the hospital. There were no toys for him to play with, and he only had a DVD of the Lion King, which he watched over and over again. What touched me most about Juan Pablo was that he seemed to barely notice his own suffering throughout his whole ordeal.
As Juan Pablo put it, “I always believed that God would heal me.”
I asked Juan Pablo what he thought about while he was confined to a hospital bed day and night. He responded,
“My mother. I worried for my mother who was so sad and crying all the time. She stayed with me all day and every night until midnight.”
When Juan Pablo finally left the hospital, he and his mother moved into the Arequipa home of Karen, Casa Chapi’s co-director. Every day for four weeks, Juan Pablo returned to the hospital for chemotherapy. The doctors told him that he should expect frequent vomiting and nosebleeds from his treatment. Juan Pablo admitted to me that his arms would freeze when the doctors inserted the needles to transfuse the chemicals, but his chest puffed up as he said that he “had never – not even once – vomited.” With tears in her eyes, his mother noted, “Thanks be to God that he only had one nose bleed.”
Juan Pablo will return to the hospital this month for another round of testing to see if his system is free of Leukemia. He has bright hopes for the future. He looks forward to returning to Casa Chapi and seeing his classmates again. He loves his life there and the schedule, which he says keeps him busy. Juan Pablo beamed when he told me that he wants to be a policeman when he grows up so that he can “fight crime” and help people, “especially old people.”
It’s no mystery to most of us in the United States that there is a huge amount of poverty and suffering outside of our borders. And most of us want to help. But it becomes so easy to become complacent when we think of the issue in the abstract. Visiting Juan Pablo helped me enormously with that problem. I am proud to be a part of Quechua Benefit and to witness firsthand the difference that it has made in the lives of people in the Peruvian highlands. Thank you to those who have been so generous with their time and resources to this wonderful cause.
Chad Colton is a trial attorney at the litigation firm of Markowitz Herbold, and is the newest addition to Quechua Benefit Board of Directors. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Treva, their three children, and a fourth on the way.
Chad litigates complex business cases and international disputes. He is fluent in Spanish, which is vital for serving his clients in Mexico and Latin America, as well as U.S. companies and individuals with disputes in those countries.
Chad lived in Peru for several years, and his love of the Peruvian people, particularly the children, led him to join the Quechua Benefit board.
Chad traveled to Peru in November and had the opportunity to meet and interview Juan Pablo in the courtyard of a small home on the outskirts of Arequipa.
Agusta Peny is a 43 year old single mother. In addition to her son Juan Pablo she has 3 daughters.She spends her day weaving on a floor loom. Her work is quite detailed and she obviously loves creating the pieces that people commission her to do.
She agreed to make a special blanket for Quechua Benefit with the words Casa Chapi, Juan Pablo and the date 2015 woven into the field. Quechua Benefit intends to auction this piece of textile art at one of their upcoming fundraising auctions.
The proceeds will be used to establish a special “Juan Pablo” fund to support patients that the Quechua Benefit medical teams identify as having a treatable disease or the need for a life changing surgery that the person or family cannot afford to address on their own.