It is hard to imagine that 13 years have passed since Frank's initial diagnosis of multiple myeloma and amyloidosis and his first bone marrow transplant. I can still hear the oncologist at the time telling us to prepare ourselves, that it was not likely that Frank would make it through the summer. When the UCI specialist confirmed the diagnosis on his 46th birthday, I was once again told that time was not on our side and that the best-case scenario was 4 years. Well, guess who proved them all wrong?!
I’ve often said that Frank’s survival is a testament to modern science and the power of love, prayer, and willpower. Thirteen years ago, Frank would say, “I just want to live long enough to see my son’s get their driver’s license and graduate high school.” Now, our older son, Alec, graduated from college in 2019, and our youngest, Jacob, will be graduating from college in December of this year! They both have been driving since they were 16… (although, we are not as excited about that as we once were, LOL). Alec and his girlfriend have their own apartment in Carlsbad and Jacob only recently returned home in the fall from school due to Covid-19. So, now, Frank’s motivation has changed to, “I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren! (Of course, our boys have had to tell him that is not in the cards for a while, so he better plan on living a few more years, for sure!)
Frank Zaldivar is a beloved father, brother, son, and friend to many. He absolutely loves his job as a research scientist/faculty member at UCI medical center and he has the good fortune of working with an amazing team – truly, they are his other family. Transactional research is the heart of Frank’s work. In addition to his work at UCI, he dedicates countless hours to the Santa Ana Community by helping to run a near year-round STEM program for school children there. He has a whole other work “family” with the Santa Ana STEM project. Between both “jobs” – he easily completes 60-hour work weeks on a regular basis. Frank is passionate about research, education, and giving back to the community, hence he has formed bonds and strong personal relationships with many of his graduate students.
Other than work, Frank is passionate about his families (his immediate family, his biological family in the Gilroy area, and the family that we have chosen ourselves -our dear friends), soccer, music, gardening, his favorite shows, and his fur babies (including our latest addition to the family, Jacob, and Kara’s adorable pup: Hopper). In the past 13 years, he tried hard to never miss his boys’ sports games and as a family, we spent many hours cheering on our boys, along with our “sports’ families” for countless hours of soccer, baseball, and lacrosse. Frank enjoys catching a soccer game with Jacob, or a Spanish telenovela with Alec. He adores their lovely girlfriends. He lights up when he receives phone calls, visits, and texts from loved ones, and during the primary year of Covid-19 quarantine, he called his parents almost daily from March 2020 to March 2021.
Sadly, as many of you know, Frank’s father, Francisco Senior, passed away in March of this year after a heart attack. We were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see him before he passed, since he chose to be released from the hospital to spend time with his family. His passing broke our hearts and still does. He and Rosa had just completed 67 years of marriage! They were and always will be our idols! Frank Sr. was an amazing man – such a wonderful role model! He was such a caring, loving individual! Frank was the kind of father that I only dreamed about having! (My own father passed away when I was six and for a few years, my mother was married to a man who had no business being anyone’s husband or father – thank goodness, they eventually divorced). Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Frank Sr. – his love of music, cooking, casinos, family, and gardening, resonates in some way with all of us. Forever in our hearts, querido Francisco! We know that he is with Frank in this journey.
We have lost so many loved ones in the past 13 years, dear family members, dear friends. It’s hard to fathom, sometimes. Our loved ones never really leave us, though, do they? They imprint on our souls and leave traces of their love and character in our hearts and minds. They would want us to focus on all that we do have to celebrate, all that we do have to be grateful for, all the family and friends with us today, and they would want us to live each day as if it were our last. They would want us to find strength in one another, to muddle through the hard stuff, and to always remain hopeful for the best. Frank has taught me that over the past few years. He literally wakes up nearly every day saying that he is thankful that he has lived to see another day.
I treasure so many moments over the past 13 years. I treasure the fact that we have had those 13 years! Truly, those years have been a gift of time. As we gear up for round two, we pray vehemently for at least 13 more! I’m so grateful for the City of Hope and to all those individuals who helped convince our insurance at the time and the City of Hope that Frank was well worth the investment some 13 years ago! Ironically, there was no need to fight this time around… as his doctors have gotten to know him over the years, there was no need to convince any of them that Frank deserved the best care possible. For those who might not be aware, Frank’s first major relapse was noted last summer and for months, he received a cocktail of steroids and chemotherapy to address it. In the end, however, the medical providers came to believe strongly that a second bone marrow transplant was his best option. Fortunately, he will be able to utilize the leftover stem cells from 13 years ago. Those babies (as he likes to call them) have remained frozen all this time and have been waiting till their moment to shine!
There are many ways that Frank’s cancer brought many of us closer together. We have bonded over participation in many charity events (such as the Relay for Life and Livestrong), the kindness bestowed on us by loved ones and absolute strangers, prayer, and our love of one terrific individual, Frank Zaldivar Jr. Thank you for accompanying us on this journey. We couldn’t have done it without you! Your support, friendship, faith, love, generosity, and prayers continue to serve as the foundation for our strength. We thank you with all of our hearts.