Jessa Salvador, 12, speaks to CSU honors students about battle with leukemia

Kate Simmons

It’s been said that every little girl dreams of the perfect wedding day, walking down the aisle arm in arm with her father while wearing a beautiful white gown. But for Jessa Salvador, picking out a wedding dress is not just a dream – it’s a goal.

12-year-old Jessa Salvador speaks to a honors seminar about her battle with leukemia Monday evening in Academic Village as her mother Jennifer Salvador watches on. When Jessa was asked what was her favorite show was she exclaimed "Say Yes to the Dress!" and went on to tell the group how the show sent her an autographic picture, hat and shirt.
12-year-old Jessa Salvador speaks to a honors seminar about her battle with leukemia Monday evening in Academic Village as her mother Jennifer Salvador watches on. When Jessa was asked what was her favorite show was she exclaimed “Say Yes to the Dress!” and went on to tell the group how the show sent her an autographed picture, hat and shirt.

After being diagnosed at age three with leukemia and surviving her first round of chemotherapy treatments, Jessa and her family thought their fight against cancer was over. Ten years later, however, she traded in her soccer jersey for a hospital gown and restarted treatment.

At the request of CSU history professor Pam Knaus, a family friend, Jessa came to campus Monday evening and presented her story for an Honors Seminar of about twenty students in Academic Village.

“Jessa always wanted to go to college and this is at least an opportunity for her,” Knaus said.

A five-and-a-half-year remission ended on Nov. 8, 2011 when Jessa was diagnosed with a leukemia relapse.

“As her parents, we would give anything for her to not have to go through this again, but we will get her through it because there is no other option,” said Jennifer Salvador, her mother. “We all need Jessa in our lives and she will battle through this because that is who she is and we all love her for that.”

“I don’t really think about what I have to go through – I just do it so I can get on with my life,” Jessa said.

“I keep telling myself if it doesn’t make her cry, then I had better not cry either,” Jennifer said. “She is such a strong little girl, physically and emotionally and we are so thankful for her strength as we believe it will carry her through this to a cure.”

Since no one in her family is a compatible match, Jessa will be on a very aggressive, high dosage chemotherapy for the next two years. If the chemotherapy stops working during her treatment or she relapses after two years of treatments, her only hope is to find someone in the donation registry for an unrelated marrow or stem cell donor.

“It is a much more difficult, longer process when (the donor) is unrelated so this was sad news to hear for all of us, and especially for her sweet, loving brother who wanted to be that life line for his sister,” Jennifer said.

Since Jessa’s relapse with leukemia in Nov. 2011, her family has bonded.

“I think one of the biggest challenges a parent faces is trying to remain strong because not only are you trying to do what you do to get through your day but you’re trying to be a strong influence for your family and show some guidance,” Darren said. “I think sometimes that’s the biggest challenge for me is just trying to make sure I’m positive around them.”

“In the past I took myself a little too seriously and Jessa’s made me realize that a lot of it is really not that important,” said Darren Salvador, Jessa’s dad.

Seventy percent of patients needing a bone marrow transplant do not have a matching family donor, and 10,000 patients per year rely on a transplant from someone outside their family.

“Sometimes I replay the outcome percentage the doctor reviewed with us in my head and I just have to stop this and believe with my heart and soul, she will be one of the kids that makes it,” Jennifer said. “It is just paralyzing to think anything else.”

Students were impressed with Jessa’s strong spirit even more than her personal story.

“It put a name with a face. You hear about people getting sick and getting leukemia or needing transplants a lot but you never really think about what they like to do or how old they might be,” said Jenni Robinson, freshman biology major.

Jessa’s story hit home for Emily Janik, another student in Knaus’s class, because a girl in her high school had leukemia and passed away last year in her Junior year of high school.

“I just hope for a better outcome for Jessa,” Janik said.

Collegian Senior Reporter Kate Simmons can be reached at news@collegian.com.