The Almendarez Family
In June of 2015, Jana and Chris Almendarez were busy with their two sons, Chase (19) and Luke (14), their church, and of course, baseball. As Chris entered his second year as the General Manager of the Round Rock Express, Jana began experiencing episodes of forgetfulness, a regular fever and headaches. After a consultation with their family physician and some initial courses of treatment, Jana ended up in the emergency room. Their lives changed forever when they learned the reason for her illness: Jana was diagnosed with an inoperable stage 4 glioblastoma (brain tumor). The family knew they were in for a fight; they refused to be victims and were determined to stay positive.
The family knew they were in for a fight; they refused to be victims and were determined to stay positive.
The team of experts at Texas Oncology started an aggressive treatment plan for Jana. Keeping her whole family in mind, her specialists Dr. Groves, Dr. Thatikonda and Rachel Smith, P.A., also recommended connecting with Wonders & Worries. Jana and Chris agreed that Wonders & Worries could help their family cope with the unexpected news of her diagnosis and the changes resulting from her treatment. “There’s not a playbook for a parent getting sick and people deal with it in different ways,” shares Chris. “The thing we were concerned about more than anything was the kids.”
There’s not a playbook for a parent getting sick.
From the first phone call with Program Director, Kim Fryar, the family knew that they had made the right decision. Kim connected Chris and Jana with child life specialist Jackie, who would be dedicated to their family moving forward. Jackie scheduled a time to meet and even traveled to their home in Williamson County to make the introductory appointment more comfortable. Jackie’s calming advice helped the Almendarez parents know how they could help their sons and they immediately felt more relaxed. “Jackie explained to us that, as teenagers, our kids would need to know that even though Jana is sick, she is being cared for and it’s okay for them to be able to continue on with their lives – school, baseball, etc.,” adds Chris. With Luke at home, they scheduled time for him to meet with Jackie individually. Because Chase was away at college Jackie worked with his parents on a plan to support and regularly communicate with him about Jana’s progress.
Chris spoke with Luke before his first appointment at Wonders & Worries and encouraged him to make the most of his time with Jackie. “I didn’t really want to go at first,” shares Luke. “I didn’t feel like I needed to talk to anyone.” However, after starting his sessions with Jackie at the North Office, his attitude changed completely. Luke recalls one session when Jackie encouraged him to throw wet toilet paper to help release some of his anger and stress, a coping tool. He reinvented this activity at home with one of his best friends – they shot airsoft guns at a picture of his mom’s tumor. Luke also enjoyed the transparent and genuine conversations with Jackie about his mom’s illness and treatment, which helped him to feel more informed and involved.
It was like twenty pounds had been lifted off of his shoulders… the room was lighter, he was less tense.
His parents recognized a difference too. “After Luke started receiving support, it was like twenty pounds had been lifted off of his shoulders… the room was lighter, he was less tense,” says Jana. She and Chris feel that the support and coping tools Luke received at Wonders & Worries have helped him during his mom’s ongoing fight and treatment – and that he has even used some of the skills to help him in other areas of his life, such as stress at school. “One of my friends was having a bad day recently, and I told him to take deep breaths and just let it out – things Jackie had taught me. By the end of the day, he felt a lot better,” Luke remembers.
When asked what he would tell another teen facing a similar situation, Luke says that he would “encourage them to go to Wonders & Worries, relieve stress, even if they don’t think they need it… don’t be scared to talk about what’s going on.” Chris and Jana agreed, adding that, “from Jackie coming to our house, to working with us on how to communicate with both of our teenage sons, one here and one away at school, we really felt like Jackie and Wonders & Worries gave us specialized support that worked for our unique situation.”
Our faith is what gets us through it.
Jana passed away in May 2016. Chris shares that “our faith is what gets us through it,” and believes that Jana’s story will help others in the future. With the overwhelming care from their community, knowing that Luke receives the help he needs and Chase is actively involved from school, they will continue down the road and look forward to “paying it forward” to others.