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Sibling bond helps Pasco girl battle leukemia

PORT RICHEY — William Marin, 17, is a rare find in the big brother department. He doesn't mind when his little sister beats him at video games.

He and his sister, 14-year-old Alize Marin, like to play video games as well as practical jokes on each other. "They gang up on me," their mother, Mari Picart, playfully protested.

Then last year, Alize was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Her family rallied around her, and Alize discovered William was more than a great brother.

He was a perfect match.

"Without my brother," she said with a smile toward William, "I wouldn't be here."

• • •

The family moved to Pasco County last spring from Pennsylvania. T-Mobile was closing its call center in Lehigh Valley. If Mari Picart wanted to keep her job with the company, she would have to relocate to a Pasco call center.

A month after the move, Alize was diagnosed with leukemia. The doctors said her type of cancer was among the toughest to beat.

"When I heard the word 'cancer,' " Picart said in a hushed voice, "I thought, 'My baby's going to die'."

Alize, then an eighth-grader with dreams of becoming a veterinarian, described her reaction in a single word: "Heartbroken."

The doctors told Alize she would stay in the hospital for about four months, receiving regular chemotherapy treatments in preparation for a bone marrow transplant. And the search began for a family member who could provide the bone marrow that Alize needed to survive.

There's a 25 percent chance that someone will be a perfect donor match for their sibling. But the odds broke in Alize's favor.

William "was not only a match, he was a 100 percent match," Picart said. "For the first time since my daughter's diagnosis, I had hope."

And she wasn't the only one.

"I was happy that I was going to be the one to help her," said William. "She would now have a better chance of being cured."

Although an outpatient procedure, the bone marrow transplant was not a simple proposition. William had to change his diet in preparation for the June 30 transplant at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He suffered from pain and nausea after the procedure. And because the doctors recommended he stay in a sterile environment while he recovered from the operation, he delayed the start of his senior year at Fivay High School from August to September.

"I looked at what my sister was going through and knew that I could do it, too," he said. "I just closed my eyes and hoped."

• • •

William and Alize have a sibling bond forged through difficult times. Their parents divorced. Their mother is a survivor of bladder cancer. Their father was murdered in 2009 in a drive-by shooting in Pennsylvania.

They've learned to support each other.

Mari Picart married her current husband, Jose, in 2000. The couple have two children together: Julian Picart, 12, and Joshua Picart, 9.

After Alize's diagnosis, Mari Picart went on unpaid leave to care for her daughter. Alize enrolled in Florida Virtual School. With Jose finding temporary trucking jobs and looking for full-time work, money was tight. That's when a group of their new Pasco neighbors came to the rescue.

One of Mari's Picart's T-Mobile co-workers was relocating to another area and allowed the family to assume the lease on her spacious Port Richey home. The Pasco-based nonprofit Operation Unwrap a Smile, headed by Herb and Stephanie Roshell, gave the family a late Christmas earlier this month, delivering a Wii video game unit and video games, a Darth Vader clock and Hello Kitty items for Alize, plus presents for the other kids.

Alize came home from the hospital just before Thanksgiving and has been improving since her transplant.

Although her condition is stabilized, Alize still deals with nausea, exhaustion and other side effects. She takes a full battery of medications each day and will go through monthly outpatient procedures for the next six months.

"They have to go through her back and check her bone marrow once a month, to make sure that her immune system stays up and to prevent a relapse," said Mari Picart. The first procedure is scheduled for Jan. 23, the week of Alize's 15th birthday.

Both mother and daughter have faith that Alize will thrive. The two even plan to write a book about their experiences, and Alize now dreams of becoming a counselor for other cancer patients.

"I want to inspire other people who are going through what I am," she said. "If I can do it, they can."

If you want to help

The family has established a fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/alizemarin to raise money for Alize Marin's medical care and living expenses.

Sibling bond helps Pasco girl battle leukemia 01/10/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 8:22am]
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