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Concert lover, big sister, cancer patient

At the age of 4, Zenaida was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that usually affects kids under age 5. In the past eight years, Zenaida has endured relapses, numerous surgeries, and various treatments. Her circumstance has made her mature beyond her years. 

Zenaida, also known to her family and friends as “Z Warrior,” is the epitome of strength and resilience. A quality that those around her truly admire. 

“Zenaida has helped us see life from a new perspective,” says her mom, Crystal. “Her optimism is contagious, and she projects so much peace and joy. Her health condition has never defined who she is as a person and she continues to thrive and live her life to the fullest. Her smile reminds us to enjoy the simplest things in life!”

“I learned early on that Zenaida is a light,” recalls Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford child life specialist Joy Nicolas, MA, CCLS, CIMI. “Positivity is the key word that comes to mind for me when I think about Z.”

Joy and Zenaida met in 2020 when Z was receiving treatment for relapsed neuroblastoma. Joy would spend time at Zenaida’s bedside working on crafts, talking about treatments, and providing support. 

“She was always curious about her medical journey and would ask great questions,” Joy says. Joy immersed herself in information and collaborated with the medical providers to answer Zenaida’s questions and provide accurate descriptions in a clear, helpful way, ensuring that then-8-year-old Z understood and was as comfortable as possible. 

“I loved Joy so much,” Zenaida says. “She would bring so many things like activities and would show me what they were going to do to me.”

Child life specialists like Joy use medical-play resources like dolls and stuffed animals, books, miniature-scale equipment, and more to help demonstrate how treatment will go and inform children in compassionate, age-appropriate ways. An important component to caring for a child’s physical and mental health is providing safe spaces for learning, expressions of emotion, and distractions during difficult moments. 

Finding Her Voice

Music therapist Emily Offenkrantz, MT-BC, NICU-MT, also played an important role in Zenaida’s care. Emily learned that Zenaida is a fan of Bad Bunny, and they sang some of his music together during their sessions. 

“Having Emily there was definitely a godsend,” Crystal says. “It was so cool, seeing Zenaida smile and get a little bit of her childhood back, enjoying trying out instruments, creating music, and making the treatment process much easier for her. It was amazing.”

Over the years, Zenaida has spent many months in the hospital and recalls the excitement of attending Valentine’s Day parties, egg hunts, the Halloween Trick-or-Treat Trail, and more. 

“There was an event where they were showing “Lilo & Stitch” in the hospital,” Zenaida remembers. “I couldn’t attend, but the Broadcast Studio team made sure I could watch it from my room.”

Z Gives Back

Today, Zenaida is back at home with her parents, two younger siblings, and beloved dog, Zoe. She takes the artistic skill she honed with Joy and makes bracelets that she sells to raise money for the hospital and kids just beginning the journey she has been on.

Many of the highlights from Zenaida’s time at Packard Children’s Hospital were made possible by generous gifts to the Children’s Fund, which supports vital departments like child life, music therapy, the chaplaincy, and others that are not covered by insurance. Philanthropy ensures that all children receive care for their mind, body, and soul at our hospital.

We are grateful for the support from the Summer Scamper and the Children’s Fund! Thanks to this attention and generosity, children like Zenaida have creative outlets to help them find moments of childhood joy amid treatment. Thank you! 

We hope you’ll come cheer for Zenaida and the other 2024 Summer Scamper Patient Heroes at our event in June!