Three years ago, Maria Vasquez-Rojas received news to celebrate: After many attempts to conceive, she was going to have a baby. But while pregnant with her daughter, Ellie, Maria was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.
"If I had not gone in for that ultrasound they would have never caught it. [Ellie] saved my life," Maria tells her brother, Francisco Vasquez, on a visit to StoryCorps in Los Angeles.
"Ellie's just been a miracle to our family," Francisco says. "Back then, I was not in a good place. I was addicted to meth, stealing. And then after you had Ellie and you were just going through your chemotherapy, I would come on my days off, and our parents would come, and having Ellie around — she was able to pull me out of the dark moments."
"I want to tell you, Frankie, that I am just so proud of you," Maria says. "You've grown up to be such a wonderful man and a wonderful human being. And I know you don't like to hear this, but if one day I'm not here, you have to be there for Ellie so that she feels her mom and what her mom represents."
"And I promise you that this change has been forever and it's made me who I really am," Francisco tells his sister. On Thursday, Francisco became Ellie's godfather.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Friday means it's time for StoryCorps; and today, the story of a mixed blessing. Maria Vasquez-Rojas and her younger brother, Francisco Vasquez, came to StoryCorps in Los Angeles. Three years ago, their family received news to celebrate - Maria was pregnant. But shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer.
Here, Maria and her brother remember how these two events changed their family in unexpected ways.
MARIA VASQUEZ-ROJAS: It was Father's Day, and we had already given Dad all his gifts. And then I told him I wanted one last gift for him, and that he was going to be a grandpa. You guys all jumped up at the same time.
FRANCISCO VASQUEZ: And screamed at the same time.
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: Everybody thought I couldn't get pregnant.
VASQUEZ: 'Cause you had been trying for so long already.
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: I'd been trying for so long. That was one of my happiest moments.
VASQUEZ: That was one of the happiest days of my life, too. What was it like when you first saw Ellie?
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: She was wrapped up like a little tamale, and she was just so beautiful.
VASQUEZ: Ellie has just been a miracle to our family 'cause the family we were before, to the family that we are now, it's completely different. Back then, I was not in a good place. I was addicted to meth, stealing. And then after you had Ellie and you were just going through your chemotherapy, I would come on my days off and our parents would come; and having Ellie around - she was able to pull me out of the dark moments.
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: It's been weird because yes, as long we've had Ellie...
VASQUEZ: Cancer has been there, too.
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: And if I had not gone in for that ultrasound, they would've never caught it. She saved my life.
VASQUEZ: I'm always amazed at how strong you are because - not that it makes my problems seem less, but it kind of puts things in perspective for me.
VASQUEZ-ROJAS: I know. But I want to tell you, Frankie, that I am just so proud of you. You've grown up to be such a wonderful man, and a wonderful human being. And I know you don't like to hear this but if one day I'm not here, you have to be there for Ellie so that she feels her mom and what her mom represents, and that's gonna be you.
VASQUEZ: And I promise you that this change has been forever, and it's made me who I really am. I just - I hope Ellie grows up and she realizes that she came into this world and just by that, she has already accomplished so much.
GREENE: That's Francisco Vasquez with his sister, Maria Vasquez-Rojas, at StoryCorps. Their interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Read more stories like this in the new StoryCorps book, "Ties That Bind." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.