August 11, 2021
Written by: Jen Tomo, Program Coordinator at Walk With Sally
Ernie and Brian
High school graduation is a huge milestone in a child’s life. It’s an accomplishment that is honored and celebrated. What isn’t often celebrated are the small accomplishments that are instead large feats in the life of a child who is experiencing the trauma of a loved one’s cancer journey. Getting out of bed in the morning, putting on a smile when all you want to do is cry; these are things that no child should think twice about. But when you are watching your 9 year old sister battle cancer, it feels like the whole world is running laps around you.
That is the story of Ernie Gomez. An 11 year old boy whose little sister Violet was diagnosed with Leukemia in September 2014. Oftentimes when there is a cancer diagnosis in a family, all of the attention goes to the one diagnosed. What doesn’t often get talked about is the devastating impact it has on the whole family. Ernie felt isolated around children his age and was lacking a community that understood what he was going through.
In 2016, Ernie and his family found Walk With Sally. We matched Ernie with his new mentor Brian. Brian lost his mom to cancer when he was 17. He understood what it was like to be a child watching their loved one suffer. Helplessness, sadness and anger were all emotions that Brian was able to get Ernie to open up about. Brian’s friendship helped Ernie gain confidence and his teachers at school noticed the improvement in his grades and social skills.
Thankfully, Violet is in remission and Brian has consistently showed up for Ernie ever since their first match day in 2016. 5 years. 5 years of consistently showing up, going to Dodger games, sharing stories, memories and laughs. Encouraging Ernie to turn his struggles into strength and being a constant support system no matter what.
Ernie is going to graduate from our mentor program this month and will be going to Dominguez Hills University to study Kinesiology. He hopes to pursue a career in sports medicine. So yes, Ernie’s graduation from high school should be celebrated. But what we at Walk With Sally celebrate with just as much confetti and cake are the times where Ernie found the strength to show up for school, share his cancer story and found light in the darkest of times. We celebrate the incredible friendship that Ernie and Brian share. We celebrate the amazing future that lies ahead and the steps it took to get there. No matter how small.