Rose Parade float: Story of Charlie Habib, 11, started in 1996

November 24, 2013 | by

Charlie Habib at school, enjoying the things all middle school students do. Photo credit: Habib family

Charlie Habib at school, enjoying the things all middle school students do. Photo credit: Habib family

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1, 2014, former City of Hope patients treated at City of Hope will see another dream come true: They'll be riding atop City of Hope's float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year's float is "Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality"; the theme of the parade is "Dreams Come True." Here is the story of one rider: Charlie Habib. Her battle was with an extremely rare cancer known as dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a tumor of the skin. Her mother discusses the disease in this video.

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My name is Charlotte. Most people call me Charlie. I am 11 years old. I am loving and kind and compassionate. I am goal-oriented. I am a bit stubborn. I love to embrace life. I look at all of life’s opportunities and obstacles right in the face. I like to win. I love a good challenge. I am determined. I am strong. I am a fighter.

My parents have always told me that I am “one in a million,” but as it turns out, I am one out of 7,413 kids who are diagnosed with cancer each year.

When I was 14 months old, my mom found a strange little bump about the size of a small pea on my body. She took me to my doctor and he told her that it was just a clogged pore. Each time she took me to the doctor, she would show him the bump and each time he would tell her that it was nothing. She told him that she was afraid that it was cancer. He told her that she should stop worrying because cancer is extremely rare in young children.

When I was 3 years old, my mom noticed that the little bump had turned into a big black lump, about the size and color of a fig. She took me back to the doctor’s office, but he didn’t know what it was, so he sent me to another doctor. Every doctor that we saw did not know what it was. None of the doctors would talk to me, they only would speak to my mother and none of them wanted to touch the bump. It made me very mad and embarrassed.

Finally, the seventh doctor that we went to decided to help me. He was very nice. He didn’t know what the bump was but said he was going to remove it so he could have it tested and then he would be able to tell my family what the bump was.

On March 17, 2006, the doctor met my family at the surgery center. They put a funny smelling mask on my face and one on my favorite stuffed dog named “Josh.” The nurses sang songs to me while I was sitting in the hospital bed and pretended that they were driving Josh and me around in a racecar as they pushed me into a big room.

A few weeks after my surgery, my parents brought me to City of Hope to meet Dr. [Judith] Sato, who was going to be my oncologist, Dr. [Mark] Wakabayashi, who was going to be my surgeon and to Joann Namm who was going to be my Child Life therapist and my new best friend!

A few days after we went to City of Hope, my mom came and sat with me on my swing set and told me that the doctor who did my surgery didn’t remove all of the bump and that I was going to have to have another surgery.

I remember feeling very mad. I remembered how much the surgery hurt and I didn’t want to feel that pain again. I told my mom, “I’m not going to do it! It’s my body and I am not going to let them hurt me again!” I was very mad at everyone for several days and my parents were very worried about me because I didn’t act like myself anymore.

A few days before my surgery, I woke up and asked my mom to tell me about all of the machines and tools that they use at City of Hope to make kids like me get healthy again. We went to the bookstore and I picked out several anatomy books and I looked at all of the pages nonstop and asked my mom lots of questions.

On May 22, 2006, we arrived at City of Hope early so that I could talk to Joann. She told me what to expect for surgery that day and answered all of my questions. Surgery went well and “Dr. Mark” told my mom and dad that he was able to get all of my bump out.

I had to stay in the hospital for a while until I healed enough to walk around again. The nurses and doctors who checked on me were so nice. I got to meet a few new friends who had cancer just like me and play video games with them in the family playroom and I had lots of visitors come to help make me feel better.

After surgery, I didn’t act like the same kid that I was before. I spent less time playing with normal 3-year-old stuff and spent all of my time studying my anatomy books. I liked to surprise my parents and friends with facts like “Did you know that your kidneys remove 547.5 liters of waste each year?” or “Did you know that the average person hiccups 2,300 times in their life?”

Eventually I became comfortable with visiting Joann and Dr. Sato every few weeks and they quickly became like family to me. I also learned which nurses were the best at giving pokes and which ones were the messiest. Spending time at City of Hope became a normal part of my family’s life. My mom would take me to my appointments while my dad was at work and my papa would bring my baby sister along and play ball with her in the grass at the Rose Garden until we could be together so that she didn’t miss out on family time.

Seven and a half years have gone by and I’ve had tons of clinic appointments, scans, pokes, a couple surgeries and a few other rare diagnoses that have been treated at City of Hope. I have made some friends along the way who understand what it is like to live with cancer and I have grown to love all of my doctors as if they were my family.

Being a longstanding patient at City of Hope has afforded me some amazing opportunities that most kids don’t have. I have been given opportunities to meet artists and celebrities who support City of Hope. Meeting and talking to them has driven me to love music and acting. I am a member of Show Choir at my school and have participated in drama classes for two years. Being surrounded by creative, inspiring and intelligent doctors and staff has inspired me to work very hard in school and set my academic goals high. I am taking all honors classes in middle school and I have big plans for college success. There are so many things that I want to do when I grow up. I love art, drama, cooking and photography. I hope to someday be a lawyer or maybe even a doctor.

I still spend a lot of time at City of Hope for tests, scans and checkups. I have been tumor free for a few years now. My doctors take good care of me. Someday I hope to only go to City of Hope to visit with everyone who has helped to make me healthy again. I dream of a world with no cancer. I have so many hopes and dreams for my future, a future that simply would not be possible without the knowledge, skill, technologies and the HOPE that City of Hope has given me.

My mom and dad met while working on a Rose Parade float in 1996 (my aunt and uncle met while working on a float, too, in 1995). That was years before I came along, but riding on this year’s float means even more to me, knowing that our story really started on New Year’s, 18 years ago.

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City of Hope needs your support to build the float Charlie will ride atop on New Years Day. Make a gift and add your wish to the float to help make dreams come true for our float riders.

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