In the days following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Enrique Ramirez knew that he had to do something. He was compelled to give back to our country. Within two months, he had joined the U.S. Navy and started a career. In the military, he found camaraderie and friendship with people from all over. Seven years into service, Second Class Petty Officer Ramirez and his wife Leticia received devastating news – their daughter Arianna was diagnosed with brain cancer.
The family received a referral to St. Jude, and within no time, young Arianna received world-class attention and care. After her initial treatment, Arianna went into remission and traveled with her family to New York City for a photoshoot; there, the Ramirez family met a young teen with bone cancer named Markell. Born with the cool confidence of someone twice his age, Markell put everyone at ease with laughter and smiles. This initial connection sparked something powerful. “That was it,” said Markell’s mom, Monique. “Immediately, it was like we were all one big family.”
There is something to be said for shared experiences and how they can bring people together. “It doesn’t have to be the same culture or color,” said Arianna’s mom Leticia. Nothing has to be the same, but our hearts hurt the same, and we’re trying to find healing the best way that we can. And we have been able to do it together.”
As Markell’s cancer returned, again and again, he and Enrique grew closer. “I believe St Jude families have a common understanding and appreciate the highs and lows in life just a little more. We understand the struggle it takes to experience the highs in this life, no matter how small they may seem to others,” said Enrique.
When Arianna’s cancer returned, and nothing more could be done for her, Monique and Markell embraced Enrique and Leticia. “Family is the only word that comes to mind when we think of Monique and Markell,” said Enrique. “There is not a day that goes by that we all do not think of Arianna or Markell, and remember that we will always be there to support each other.”
In time, both families would experience the loss of their children. Childhood cancer had taken so much from young parents, but it would not erase their bonds. After Markell’s death, Monique moved her family permanently from Louisiana to Memphis, where Enrique and Leticia and their family live.
As time passes by, the bonds between the two families have only grown stronger. After 14 years in the Navy, Enrique now works for ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude. Memories of Arianna remain strong, but the tales and tears are no longer exclusively Enrique and Leticia’s. The same can be said for Markell. They are both remembered by their “one big family,” brought together by St. Jude. The long and winding road of their journey will be traveled the best way they know — together.Read comments