Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2006

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Kim-Toy Reynolds Huh ´77

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Camel kindness

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Camel kindness

Camel kindness
Joli Vega on her second birthday, July 17, 2005, a month before the diagnosis.

CC alumni help the family of Jorge Vega ´97 and Liza Talusan-Vega ´97
after their 2-year-old daughter is diagnosed with cancer

By Julie Novak


On the morning of August 17, 2005, Jorge Vega and Liza Talusan-Vega, both Class of ´97, packed their things and drove to Boston where they planned to take their 2-year-old daughter, Joli, to a routine doctor´s appointment and then spend a fun family day in the city.

But plans changed instantly when the doctor diagnosed Joli with a rare form of eye cancer and said she needed immediate surgery to remove her right eye. Called retinoblastoma, the cancer develops from immature retinal cells in one or both eyes and affects children five and under.

“It still chokes me up to talk about it now,” Liza says. “We had no idea.”

The Vegas, of Brockton, Mass., were aware Joli was developing a lazy eye, and they talked to Liza´s father, an ophthalmologist, for his opinion. He suggested they take her to the specialist in Boston as a precaution.

“We didn´t think it was anything we should be concerned about. She wasn´t falling down or walking into things,” Liza says.

For family and friends, devastation followed shock at the news of the diagnosis.

“There was nothing that we could do to help Joli get better,” says Deirdre Hennessey Eschauzier ´95, a close friend of the Vegas. “As parents ourselves, we shuddered to even imagine being in the same position. ... We wanted to do something and we figured relieving some financial pressure would ease their minds a bit so they could focus on making Joli well.”

With the Vegas´ blessing, Deirdre contacted friends and family and organized a holiday raffle along with her husband Chase ´97 and his twin brother Ryan ´97. They started with the people on the Vegas´ Christmas card list. Ryan, a member of the CC Alumni Association Board of Directors, brought the fundraiser to the board´s attention and e-mailed his CC classmates to alert them. Chase also sent an e-mail to a group of alumni he is in touch with.

“That [e-mail] was forwarded to their friends, parents and co-workers,” says Chase. “I think this says a lot about both the strength of character of the Vegas and the friendships that they made while at Connecticut College, but also the compassion of other Connecticut College alumni who were so willing and eager to donate.”

It wasn´t long before they had an army of 26 ticket-sellers and 40 prizes to give away, including three iPods, electronics, magazine subscriptions, pottery, services and gift certificates. Deirdre estimates that more than 4,000 raffle tickets were sold. They exceeded their original goal of $500, raising close to $18,000 and counting. The funds have helped cover doctor´s fees, medication costs and other incidental expenses associated with Joli´s care.

In January, doctors examined Joli under anesthesia and found no tumors. She had surgery in December to insert a prosthetic eye and completed chemotherapy treatments in early February. She will visit the doctor every three months for an exam to make sure no new tumors have developed. Throughout the painful ordeal, the Vegas have been impressed with Joli´s strength and positive attitude.

“It was hard for us to explain what was happening to her, but she has done surprisingly well,” Liza says. “We would take it away if we could, but we´re thankful for the lessons it´s taught us.”

Liza has been moved by the notes people have sent with
their donations — some from alumni the Vegas have never met or been in touch with since college. The outpouring of compassion and support has been tremendous, Deirdre says, but the true hero in this situation is Joli.

“She is such a strong and powerful little girl,” she says. “She doesn´t understand about raffle tickets and iPods, but she clearly knows about survival and choosing to be happy despite great challenges.”


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