Josie Ozaeta smushed her lips against the face of her older sister Hailee, landing loud kisses on her cheek, while Hailee groaned.
“Wet kisses,” Hailee, 10, said, as she pulled her head out of Josie’s grasp.
The exchange seems like a typical one between siblings, but Hailee was more amused than annoyed during the exchange. Their mother told Hailee, “She’s making up for all the times she couldn’t kiss you.”
In March 2018, when Hailee was 8, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects white blood cells.
“I felt very sick. I felt weak,” Hailee said. “I felt like a weight on me. I would get a lot of headaches.”
Her mother, Sandra Ozaeta, told ABC-7 that when doctors confirmed Hailee’s diagnosis, she didn’t tell her daughter.
“How do you tell your 8-year-old that she has cancer?” Sandra said.
But Hailee told ABC-7 that she learned anyway, through dreams based in her faith.
“There was this dark tunnel and I was walking to it,” Hailee said. “And there was this big light at the end. I see the Virgin Mary and she is in a burgundy thing with green, with her hands like this,” she said, gesturing with her palms up in her lap. “She didn’t use the word ‘cancer,’ but something told me in my heart that I had it,” Hailee said. “She was just telling me how I had to keep strong.”
“I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t anything,” she added. “I just felt peaceful, and I knew that I was going to be OK. I just had that faith in me.”
Hailee said she did keep strong through chemotherapy and hair loss, but that kidney failure two months into her intense treatment brought another dream of a heavenly encounter.
“I had another dream,” Hailee told ABC-7. “There was God, but he was a figure of light.”
She described seeing stairs blanketed with clouds and eating at a banquet with angels.
“We all ate tamales and Takis,” she said, laughing.
But then she said the tone of the dream turned more serious.
“This little (angel) broke his wing, and God touched it,” she said. “I was like, ‘What is that supposed to mean?’ And God said, ‘The same thing that I’m going to do to you.’ So he touched my kidneys. And that’s when I woke up.”
She said that when she awoke, she was able to use the restroom — something that hadn’t been possible for a whole day due to her kidney failure.
In June 2018, her scans came back clean. She was cancer-free.
That summer, she attended a weeklong camp organized by Candlelighters of El Paso for kids who are battling or who overcame cancer.
“That was her first step out of the hospital,” Sandra said. “She was able to be a kid for a whole week.”
When Hailee talked about camp, her face lit up. “My favorite thing was at the end — the dance. It was really fun this year,” she said while laughing.
With a year left of treatment, the fifth grader is dreaming of her future.
“I want to work at the children’s hospital for kids that have cancer,” Hailee said. “Now that I’ve been through this, I want to help other kids and tell my story to them and tell them that everything’s going to be OK.”
Candlelighters of El Paso supports families who are fighting childhood cancer. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Candlelighters is hosting the Walk of Hope for families of fighters, survivors, and those who who lost their battle with cancer.
The walk on Sept. 28 at Ascarate Lake is free to participate and is open to everyone.