Gabriella’s Smile Foundation and Books That Heal. Stronger than DIPG
(The Torres Family from Left to Right: Isabel, Jadon, Gabriella (in photo), Amaris and Cecilio)
Four years ago, on March 17, 2015, six year old Gabriella Torres from San Antonio, Texas was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, DIPG, which is a tumor that grows on the stem of the brain. Unfortunately, this aggressive form of cancer is inoperable and Gabriella’s life ended just eight months later on November 7, 2015.
We are sharing Gabriella’s story because it doesn’t end in 2015. Through her family’s dedication and their creation of Gabriella’s Smile Foundation (https://www.strongerthandipg.org/), Gabriella’s journey begins anew.
We had the opportunity to speak to Gabriella’s parents, Cecilio and Isabel Torres, to learn more about their work, the Foundation and the extraordinary life lessons to be found in their experience. Here is their story.
Why Gabriella’s Smile Foundation?
Cecilio and Isabel share, “It started when Gabriella was alive. She was very strong and every day she would give us one smile and not focus on the cancer itself. During her cancer journey, we got 237 smiles from Gabriella.”
Gabriella always wanted to be a boss and she told her parents that she had a dream; that mom and dad had a lot of money and they gave it away to other families. For the entire Torres family, Gabriella is the inspiration and founder of the Foundation and to this day, the family is working for her.
Gabriella’s Smile Foundation was created to give back and help families going through what they experienced. Cecilio explains, “The toll is immense, not just emotionally and physically but financially. Paying for medical care and treatment exhausted all of our resources. We both eventually had to quit our jobs to care for Gabriella. Unless you’ve been through this, it’s hard to understand. If it weren’t for the incredible outpouring of support from our community, we don’t know what we would have done.”
Gabriella’s Smile Foundation’s primary mission is to directly help families affected by DIPG across the United States and help fight childhood cancer in the San Antonio, Texas area. Isabel explains, “Many families have to choose between a job or their child. Eventually you cannot work and you become completely dependent on others, on people’s benevolence. We were fortunate. Many families however don’t receive the support or don’t have the network. They may need to go to a new city to get care and treatment and don’t know how they can do it. Through our Foundation, we wanted to be that place any family dealing with DIPG could go. Get resources and help from families that have been through it themselves.”
Since its inception in March 2016, Gabriella’s Smile Foundation has given $27,000 in grants to a total of 42 families plus $10,000 in research funding. Grants start at $500 and are now $750 with the goal to increase to $1,000. Cecilio shares: “They say that no one fights cancer alone and we believe the families are stronger together. We believe it is this support that helps make us and other families stronger than DIPG and stronger than any cancer.
As another reminder of Gabriella, the Torres family made a stamp of her signature and her autograph is in every book.
Gabriella’s Smile, the book, and support for the Foundation.
The book, Gabriella’s Smile, was created and illustrated after Gabriella passed away by her parents, her brother Jadon and her sister Amaris. Isabel shares, “We are very appreciative of what Michael Flatley, founder of Books That Heal, is doing. Creating these books helps people to empathize with what we went through. Anywhere we speak, in churches or community centers, the book helps us share our story and is a resource for raising funds as well. Even Jadon and Amaris went in to read to elementary school children in the area. The kids were mesmerized and excited to meet real illustrators.”
Healing and Discovering Purpose
Gabriella’s Smile Foundation has made all the difference in healing as a family and has given them a way to take the focus off of their own pain. Cecilio explains “We tried counseling; it made us more depressed. The truth is that the Foundation and helping other families as a family has kept Gabriella in our daily life. We still cry, we still struggle. If we weren’t doing this, I don’t think we would do very well. We have our purpose now and we will do this as long as we can.”
Isabel now is able to dedicate 100% of her time to the Foundation. Even when Cecilio is working, it’s all about the Foundation. It’s about prioritizing what’s really important in life. For the entire Torres family, the Foundation has ensured that Gabriella continues and is part of their life for the rest of their lives.
Choose to be happy.
Through this experience, the Torres family knows that life itself is precious. Cecilio shares, “Death is a reality and will affect us all somehow and in some way. Through Gabriella’s journey, we learned what it means to be truly thankful for the next day she was alive. We learned that even though her diagnosis was terminal, we could get a smile and make something good out of any situation. We can all say I choose to be happy today.”
Thank you, Gabriella.
One of the hardest things is to see your child in pain and cancer is painful. Because of DIPG, Gabriella at one point had to do physical therapy to learn how to walk again. The therapist would say “let me know if it’s too much; you don’t have to be afraid, we can stop.” Gabriella in her amazing bold and defiant way looked at him and said “If God is with you, you don’t have to be afraid of anything.”
Though we never met Gabriella, she and her family are very much a part of the Books That Heal family. The courage, tenacity and ability to turn pain into the power to heal is an inspiration to us all.
Thank you, Gabriella and the entire Torres family for sharing your journey.