Young patient looking toward future after graduation ceremony in hospital

Evelia Rodriguez © UC Regents
Evelia Rodriguez, who graduated high school while receiving cancer treatment at UC Davis Children's Hospital, was recently able to tell her story for the Sacramento Univision affiliate.

Posted Sept. 14, 2011

Evelia Rodriguez was back at UC Davis Children's Hospital last week for chemotherapy, two months after a high school graduation ceremony orchestrated by the team of pediatric cancer nurses who had cared for her during an extended hospital stay.

Now 19, Evelia, or "Evie" as she is known, is taking on acute lymphatic leukemia with spirit, humor and determination. Diagnosed in March of this year, the Dunnigan teenager had longed to graduate from high school with the rest of her classmates, but illness and complications from chemotherapy treatment kept her in the hospital.

The event in June drew several nurses, doctors and staff from UC Davis Children's Hospital, where Evie had spent four months recuperating from a life-threatening series of seizures and temporary paralysis. Also attending the cap-and-gown event were teachers, classmates and a counselor from Pierce High School in Arbuckle.

Even though she was terribly ill and, it was feared at the time, unlikely to survive her ordeal, graduation was important to Evie, as she would be the first in family to do so. Neither of her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, have high school diplomas.

"I wanted to be a role model for my little brothers," she said.

"I wanted to be a role model for my little brothers."
— Evelia "Evie" Rodriguez

During her various hospital stays, the jovial patient grew close to many of her nurses, two of whom — Ana Navas-Stahl and Andrea Reich — she called "my two mamas."

"No matter where she went in the hospital, there they were," said Veronica Rodriguez, Evelia's real mother.

A crew from Univision's Channel 19, a Spanish-language television station, recently interviewed Evelia, her mother and Navas-Stahl at the close of another round of chemotherapy. They talked about her experiences with cancer, her dreams for a college education and her hopes for the future.

Said Evie: "At first, I wanted to be a cop, but they just go around giving people tickets. Now I want to study to become a member of a SWAT team, because I like the action."