LA MESA, Calif. — You never know when an angel might show up to help a cancer patient through a tough time. In this Zevely Zone I met Crystal's Angels.
Crystal Ojeda was only 34 years old when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015. Crystal had PEH (pulmonary epithelioid hemangioendothelioma), a rare form of lung cancer. She passed away one year later, in 2016. Crystal's wife and mother-in-law have been honoring her memory with a group called Crystal's Angels.
"Why her? That goes through our mind all the time," said Crystal's mother-in-law, Gloria Repik. "She was only 34 and she didn't smoke." While smoking tobacco is the top risk factor for developing lung cancer, nonsmoking-related lung cancer does happen.
According to the CDC, about 10% to 20% of lung cancer cases occur in people who don't smoke. "It's still a shock," said Crystal's wife, Trini who is the Engineering Manager at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Trini says chemotherapy was about the only place the love of her life would slow down. "When the sun would go up her eyeballs would wake up, every time the sun went down her eyes would finally shut and I would say I can never keep up with this woman," said Trini.
She and her mother Gloria created a movement called Crystal's Angels in Crystal's honor. "It's wonderful. It keeps her spirit alive and going," said Dr. David Bodkin from Sharp Grossmont Hospital. He was Crystal's oncologist who discovered she was a non-smoker living with a pain in her back for years but never got it checked out. "We know that about 80% of lung cancer occurs in people who have had a smoking history or active smokers but that is 20-percent that are non-smokers," said Dr. Bodkin.
To keep Crystal's legacy of love alive, Trini, along with friends and family, are honoring her memory by raising awareness through the American Lung Association (ALA) LUNG FORCE Walk on January 30 at Liberty Station.
The team began in 2017 with 55 walkers and is now one of the largest teams with 200-plus angels walking in 2022. Trini described her love for Crystal. "It is still strong. It will never end, it will never end," said Trini. The two had been married just over a year when Crystal was diagnosed. Crystal had never used tobacco, although smoking is the number one risk factor for the disease. They have a son, Isaiah, who is now 22.
"Crystal started all of this," said Gloria. When Crystal lost her hair to chemotherapy, she passed out beanies to fellow patients. "Our hair is our crowning glory," said Gloria who handcrafts Crystal Beanies for any cancer patient free of charge with a tag that reads, "In loving memory of my beautiful daughter-in-law she sparkled on earth now she sparkles in heaven."
Gloria had made thousands of beanies and often receives thank you notes from patients that read, "That they felt pretty I hear that a lot, I hear that a lot, they feel pretty and I like I said that's my whole goal," said Gloria. "As you can see, I love sparkle. I had to sparkle them up." Trini added, "She would want us to keep moving forward she would want us to keep using her voice."
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To register for ALA LUNG FORCE Walk or for more information click here.
The walk is on Sunday, January 30. It starts at 7:30 am in Liberty Station. The angels are committed to helping others who have lost loved ones to lung cancer, as well as anyone facing the disease so that they never feel alone.
When it comes to lung cancer screening, talk to your doctor about your individual risks. Screening is the best way to detect lung cancer early when it's treatable. For more information click here.
If you'd like to custom order a Crystal Beanie free of charge you can email Gloria at Crystalbeanies@gmail.com.
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