Same Traditions, New Meanings: A Quinceañera To Celebrate Victory Over Cancer

Morales Cancer Quinceañera BELatina Latinx
Mariana - Photo courtesy of Sonia Morales (LinkedIn.com)

The world may have paused for many people during the past year and a half, but the hardships of life persist beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the world was being flipped upside down, a family was overjoyed by the news that their daughter, Mariana, had finished her last chemotherapy session. This was the same year that she was going to turn 15. And as it is customary, the thought of a quinceañera lingered above their heads, even though it hadn’t originally been in the plans. 

“We were like, ‘we should have a quinceañera,’” Mariana’s mother, Sonia Morales, tells BELatina News.  

“All the little things, while they meant something before, escalated and meant more after this.”

Family, resilience, and a diagnosis

Latinx traditions differ from regional culture to the next. But one thing we can, for the most part, share are quinceañeras.

A quinceañera is a coming of age celebration, similar to bougie debutante balls, except ours is deeply rooted in the intrinsic wonder that is our Latinidad. 

But three years before turning 15, Mariana had been diagnosed with cancer, which brought her life and the lives of those around her to an abrupt stop.

Nevertheless, navigating through the difficulties of a cancer diagnosis as a family was foreign to all of them. At times, they found themselves inundated with questions about the next steps.

Her mother recalls being next to her daughter as much as she could during these times. 

“I was always in bed with her. She would not let me leave the hospital room,” Morales said. 

However, her strength and hope fueled her days even when the energy was scarce. 

The perseverance of Morales, a daughter of Mexican parents, was sparked by the influences she had as a child. Through her father’s work in a steel mill, her uncle’s mentorship, and her mother’s eagerness for her and her sisters’ to excel in school, she became equipped with an everlasting armor of passion.

Her daughter also shares this type of resilience. 

“It is a very scary time, but you will come out of it stronger,” Mariana told us when asked about her experience with her past diagnosis. 

Mariana did not let her medical condition interfere with her life. With the help of those around her, including the nurses, she was able to find normalcy amidst a reality she hadn’t anticipated. She even encouraged her father to continue working while she was getting treatment because not only was it important to him, it was important to her. 

Looking back at her experience, she shared that being vulnerable and accepting the help of others was vital to her recovery. 

“It was just really hard for me to accept the help right away,” Mariana said. “But I learned that being vulnerable opens up your heart, opens up your doors, opens up other people to come in, and also helps in the long run.”

Since then, she’s ran track and is now playing golf as well as helping her school.

When a tradition takes on an entirely different meaning

Before this life-altering event, a quinceañera was not in the talks. In fact, the mother-daughter duo had spoken about traveling in lieu of the traditional celebration; one of their favorite shared pastimes has always been to travel. 

But the cancer treatment and the support system they gained shifted their plans.

“It started to change our thinking,” Morales told us. 

“The quinceañera would symbolize a celebration of Mariana’s great achievement and journey; it would be a celebration of her life as well as a celebration of our community, her family, and friends that were there to support us along the way.”

After attending a couple of quinceañeras, Mariana expressed her desire to have one. 

And that dream became a reality. 

Her fifteenth birthday was originally planned for December 12th of 2020, a day after her actual birthday. But with COVID-19 cases rising and her still being immunocompromised, the quinceañera party was pushed to June 26th of 2021. 

It was a small event where only four tías and two close family friends attended. The family from Mexico couldn’t fly in because of the vaccination delay they were encountering. 

Nonetheless, the intimacy of the celebration still encapsulated one of the many meanings behind it — joy lived through culture. 

Though it’s been months since Mariana’s last chemo session, the follow-ups remain. 

“Every month when we go to the doctor, part of me still holds my breath until we get the test results back,” Morales shared with us.  “But in between it all, we try to enjoy and live life more fully. You know, they say to live today as if it’s your last.”

The family now makes it a point to reciprocate the support they once received. 

They’ll join any fundraising or organization that spreads awareness on childhood cancer. They also counsel families, especially those that are in the area, to help guide them. 

“I feel like that was a huge part,” Morales added.  “I connected with other cancer moms; it was helpful to have a support system that knew exactly what I was going through and reassured me that I wasn’t going crazy.”

As for Mariana, once she turns 16, she wants to volunteer at the hospital and help in the playroom. The playroom was one of Mariana’s favorite parts when she was in the hospital. 

This was, without a doubt, a quinceañera fit for a young woman filled with plenty of bravery and power.