EL PASO, Texas - "Both of my children's childhoods were stolen," Lara Morales told ABC-7, as she watches her son playing with the family dog. "Shawn was 8, and Ryan was 3 when we started this journey, and it just hasn't gone away for us."
Lara is talking about the time she learned her son, Ryan, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. Ryan, who has Down syndrome, later relapsed in 2015. The past eight years have taken a toll on the Morales family.
Lara told us how she lost her home shortly after Ryan started treatment for his relapse. "We pretty much lived at the hospital. That was our mailing address for six weeks," said Lara. With the help of local organizations, she was able to get an apartment for her and her two sons.
Lara worked as a teacher before having to leave the workforce to care for Ryan. She was married, had a home, and two cars. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," Lara said. But that hasn't stopped her from keeping a positive attitude. "And yet, we still smile and we still laugh. There's still love in my home."
Lara divorced from Ryan's father in 2013, adding that the stress of the Ryan's illness partially added to that. "A lot of it was the stress on me, and I'm sure I was difficult to get along with," she admits. Lara said cancer wreaks havoc on all your relationships, and steals from your life. "It turns family into strangers and strangers into friends," said Lara. Thankfully, she added, that her and her ex-husband are blessed that they are able to work together and focus on Ryan.
In a perfect world, there's no cancer and suffering. But Lara said real life isn't pretty. "Real life looks like, real life looks like cancer, real life looks like crammed into a one bedroom apartment, and just being grateful we have that."
Lara's car is also a cause for worry. She had to sell her truck to help pay for expenses, and was left with a van. The ignition switch has gone out, there is faulty wiring throughout, before that the fuel pump was acting up. "I don't think there's an airbag in it."
Despite everything, she does not want anyone's pity. If anything, she wants to bring awareness to the lack of funding in childhood cancer. "We don't get enough money for reasonable treatments that don't cause horrible side effects."
Most days, Lara remains hopeful she'll get by. "There is always someone who comes through," Lara said. "But the waiting to see, the having to ask, and the not being able to do...I can't even put words to how heartbreaking it is"
Lara's teenage son, Shaun, has stepped up to help Ryan and his mother throughout the trying times. "I don't even know how I would do it without having him here," Lara stressed. But she added she does feel bad after missing so many of Shaun's events. "I have missed so many things. I have missed football games, I have missed parent teacher conferences, I have missed things that are important to him," said Lara. "Just over and over, I have to tell him I'm sorry. I can't."
Ryan is doing well for the most part, but he does have stays at the hospital. Lara said people ask her how does she find the strength to keep fighting. Lara answered, there's no other option when it comes to your child. "The other alternative is unspeakable".
Lara said her son is her hero. "Ryan is a fighter. This little boy has overcome and overcome and overcome, and he's my hero."
"I just don't want anybody to ever understand what we're going through."
Lara and her son are just one of many families your generous donation will help this winter.
ABC-7'S Annual Operation Noel Telethon will be Thursday. A donation of $13.50 will help pay for one jacket.
For more than 70 years, Operation Noel has looked out for some of our area's neediest children.
The charity has evolved over the years, but its primary mission today is to provide new winter coats to more than 20,000 children in the region whose families cannot afford to buy the coats for them. This is possible through community donations both individual and corporate. One hundred percent of the donations go toward paying the bill for the new coats, which is approximately $270,000.00, or approximately $13.50 per coat.
For many area children, Operation Noel is their only hope of getting a new winter coat. Over the years, we have heard of Operation Noel coats being passed on to younger children in the family.