When Glenwood Springs High School senior Marimar Arvizo was undergoing cancer treatment at Valley View Hospital in the fall, the 18-year-old told teacher Mary Hinkey that all she wanted to do was graduate and see her parents sitting in the stands, as they had for her older sister, Alejandra.
Hinkey, who tutored Marimar while she was in the hospital, assured her that it would happen.
This week, Marimar, who is battling abdominal cancer, is in New York for a complex surgery, but on May 4, Hinkey delivered on her promise.
The GSHS cafeteria was decorated in the school’s red and white and filled with family, friends, teachers and hospital staff for an early commencement ceremony. Marimar’s parents, Maria and Javier, watched as she marched in with her cap and gown, flanked by her sister and her best friend. “Pomp and Circumstance” played, and principal Paul Freeman presented her diploma. Afterward, they had a graduation party on site.
“It was a happy time,” Hinkey recalled. “We didn’t talk about cancer. We didn’t talk about surgery. It was just celebrating her 12-year accomplishment.”
Jamie Darien, Marimar’s first-grade teacher and the guest speaker, made comments tailored to Marimar.
“You shine and brighten those lives around you,” she said. “You never give up and you never give in.”
Marimar was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2013, and missed school for treatments in the fall. Her doctor at Valley View, Armando Armas, encouraged her to keep up with school work, so Hinkey came in to tutor her.
“Dr. Armas ... and the staff there are amazing,” Hinkey said. “They love Marimar, and Marimar loves them.”
Despite her periodic absence, Marimar was voted “Biggest Heart” by her peers. She even made an appearance in the class photo in the form of a cardboard cutout put together by Hinkey.
At the end of March, Arvizo’s condition deteriorated. She was flown to Grand Junction and eventually ended up at University Hospital in Denver. For more than three weeks, she underwent radiation twice a day. The surgery she needed, however, required an expert.
Armas referred her to Dr. Tomoaki Kato, surgical director of adult and pediatric liver and gastrointestinal transplantation at New York Presbyterian Hospital. If Marimar was a candidate for the surgery, the family was told, it would take more than a month for her to recover — well past the May 31 graduation.
Just a few days after the advance graduation ceremony, the Arvizos boarded a flight for New York. It was the first time on the plane for all of them, not counting Marimar’s flight for life.
The surgery, which can take 24-36 hours, began Monday. In order to access Marimar’s cysts, Kato planned to remove and then put back in place several organs — a tricky procedure even for a renowned surgeon.
Marimar told Hinkey that she is determined to keep fighting for her life. Her favorite quote, Hinkey said, is from Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics”: “For the things we have to learn, before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
Although the family is insured, many expenses are not covered. Miracle Flights for Kids, a national nonprofit, paid for Marimar and one parent to fly to New York, but the transportation for the rest of the family, oxygen for the cab ride to the hospital and lodging for her parents are not covered. Her parents, who were not available for comment, will also be unable to work for some time. The Marimar Arvizo Benefit Account has been established at Alpine Bank to help with these costs. Donations can be made in person or by mail to any Alpine location, or can also be dropped off at Glenwood Springs High School.
Flowers and well wishes may be directed to Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, 3959 Broadway, New York, New York 10032.