Anali Carrasco fought cancer with faith

October 15, 2013

PASADENA — Anali Carrasco wanted to be a saint at the age of 5.
The young girl had such an interest in saints that she often read stories about them and quizzed her mother, Cecilia, about particular facts regarding them.

“She was pretty religious since she was little,” Cecilia said. “I often asked myself, ‘Why would a little child say she wants to be a saint?’”
It appears Anali always had a connection to God, a relationship that would comfort her and family members during a time of sickness, uncertainty and her eventual death.

At age 13, only a month after completion of seventh grade at St. Pius V Catholic School in Pasadena, leukemia took Anali. On June 25, she died at home, surrounded by loved ones.

Her mother and father, David, said their daughter’s illness was deeply intertwined with her faith. To memorialize Anali, her parents discussed her story three months after her death, although still pained by the loss of their child.

They talked about Anali and how she was very private. They debated whether it would be something Anali would want to share.

But they believe God answers prayers. He gave them time with her, nearly four years after her initial 2009 diagnosis at age 9. That came after complaints of severe stomach pains, unexplained bruises and fatigue. Blood tests revealed cancer.

“The main reason is to give glory to God because He did so much through her life,” Cecilia said. “Through all the healing, through the Eucharist, through the rosary, that’s what I want the world to know is prayers get answered. 

“The greatest healing power that we have is the Eucharist. Sometimes as Catholics we don’t realize what we have and I thank God that He let our family go through this,” she said. 

“Thanks to this, God lifted me. When I would say this suffering is too strong for me, this pain is too strong for me, I can’t live this and then I took Communion, it was like a new Cecilia. The pain was gone and the fears were gone. That’s how I got through it and how I keep getting through it and it’s the reason why I tell this, so we can value what we have, which is the Eucharist.”

Anali had a strong belief in the Eucharist as well. She was a devout Catholic who took Communion and attended Mass. Following her diagnosis, her faith never faded. 

Even when ill from chemotherapy and its harsh side effects, Anali would attend Mass, receive Communion and pray the rosary almost daily. Sometimes she would lie down in the pew, and then feel better after service.

“She would say, ‘Mom, after I took the Body of Christ, my throat didn’t hurt anymore,’” Cecilia said. “Sometimes I would bring her straight from the hospital and we would go to Mass, even after her chemotherapy treatments.”

Anali even requested prayer over medications before taking them.

At first, Anali attended public school but after diagnosis she was homeschooled for a year during treatment. Doctors told the family she needed 2 ½ years of chemotherapy.

Her parents eventually enrolled their four daughters in Catholic school to give them a faith-based education. For Anali, it also meant daily access to church.

Apparently, schoolwork came naturally. During her illness, she kept up with classroom demands and hated missing a day.

After two years of treatment, Anali was in remission. Unfortunately the cancer returned shortly afterward.

That meant stronger chemotherapy treatment and more hospital stays. 

While the family can attest to smaller miracles in Anali’s life, they recount one “big miracle” that relates to reoccurring headaches that soon began.

Back at the hospital, doctors found a fungus in her sinus cavity behind her eyes. That was November 2011. She was hospitalized for three months.

Due to her leukemia, her body lacked an immune system and her body was unable to fight it, plus she had diabetes, which complicated matters.
The doctors gave her parents an ultimatum: allow them to perform surgery to remove her right eye and bone structure or be prepared for her death within days.

“The doctor told us we had to make a decision,” Cecilia said. “We agreed we weren’t going to do it. I trusted Jesus with her life and I turned her over to Him at that point.

“They told us to look for a funeral home. They said the shortest would be two days or the longest it would be is a week,” she added. “With the fungus she had, no other kid had survived it without surgery.”

Then the miracle happened. Amazingly, a worldwide expert on fungus showed up at Texas Children’s Hospital. He had no reason to be there. He administered an anti-fungal medication to Anali and she got better. The swelling in her face disappeared and her eyesight returned to normal.

While Anali recuperated, Father Peter Dorairaj, SSS, often visited the room to offer spiritual guidance. He also brought Communion almost daily and answered questions Anali posed to him.

“I would visit Anali while she was at Texas Children’s Hospital for three months and we became good friends on a faith journey,” Father Dorairaj said. “The whole family had a strong faith and belief in the Eucharist.”

Father Dorairaj, a fulltime Catholic chaplain at the Medical Center in Houston, often saw Anali when she attended Masses at St. Luke’s Medical Center or Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Her faith was very, very deep, although she knew she was going through hard times,” Father Dorairaj said. “She challenged my faith because I asked God why He would give this to this good girl. But she was actually teaching me the simple things about faith and about God.”

She continued to gain strength, despite her close brush with death.

“No one could believe how good she looked,” said dad David. “You couldn’t tell she was ever ill. She loved meat and was eating steak and running around the hospital.”

Still, doctors didn’t want her to return home because the anti-fungal medicine was dangerous and could pose additional problems. Eventually, they changed their minds.

In February 2012, Anali returned to school and enjoyed a family that included three sisters, Bianca, 17, Gabriela, 11, and Cecilia, 10. Then, of course, she attended daily Mass and received the Eucharist; it was a connection to faith that many believe is responsible for her strength.

She lived for 1½ years after that.

Sadly, the leukemia spread to her brain, then to her blood.

In June, Anali was placed in Hospice at home.

Father Dorairaj visited Anali during that time. She thanked him for everything he had done; he told her that she was an angel.

On June 14, it was David’s birthday and a friend suggested the family take a photo while Anali was feeling well.

So Anali, along with her parents and three sisters, smiled. There was no sign of sickness.

On Father’s Day, Anali could not attend Mass but requested Communion at home. She mostly remained in bed, but was able to get up to eat her favorite crawfish meal with the family.

By June 23, a nosebleed sent her back to the hospital and then she was back home.

Anali passed away on June 25.

“That was really a tough week,” said Cecilia after a long pause.

She recalled the family portrait that was taken a week before Anali’s death. The actual photo is unmarked, but a friend apparently emailed a copy to another friend, who emailed a copy to another friend.

The emailed copy has a bright yellow circle over Anali’s body. Family members believe it is a symbol of the Eucharist. It is a confirmation of her life and her love of Communion.

“It’s been a journey for all of us,” David said. 

That journey included her older sister, Bianca, who said Anali motivated her to do well in school because she loved it so much.
“I was always amazed by her,” Bianca said. “If I were to go through that, I wouldn’t know how I would handle it.

“Anali would go to church and school and was always positive about things,” Bianca said. “She was just a strong, caring girl.”