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Vannie Cook Clinic

A Ray of Light for Rio Grande Valley Cancer and Hematology Patients

Before the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic opened in 2001 in McAllen, Texas, local children suffering from cancer and blood disorders had to travel to cities like Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Houston for care and treatment. For many families, this created enormous physical, emotional and financial hardships — and as a result, many children in the area went untreated or did not receive the specialty care they needed.

There was a huge need to address this issue, and a joint venture between the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine did just that, by creating the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic as an extension of Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

The mission of the region’s first and only comprehensive pediatric oncology and hematology clinic is to provide cancer and hematology patients in the Rio Grande Valley with the highest level of care without the need for them to travel and regardless of their families’ financial capacity. The clinic continues to absorb the ever-increasing costs of chemotherapy, which average to $3 million per year.

Over the past 18 years, the clinic has recorded more than 83,000 patient visits and cared for approximately 9,500 children.

“Unfortunately, some of our patients’ families have to choose between putting food on the table or gas in their car,” said Dr. Juan Carlos Bernini, the clinic’s medical director. “Most of our patients come from low income families. Having a cancer clinic in the Rio Grande Valley means that children can receive state-of-the-art care right here. They don’t have to travel 300 miles to Houston and spend lots of money on gas, lodging and food. They can stay close to home with their families.”

“Most of our patients come from low income families. Having a cancer clinic in the Rio Grande Valley means that children can receive state-of-the-art care right here.”

Dr. Juan Carlos Bernini,
medical director at Vannie Cook Clinic

Ana and Nathan
Ana and Nathan

A patient’s Journey

By Ana Lopez

My personal journey at the Vannie Cook Clinic began when I was 17.

I was so excited to start my senior year in high school and enjoy football games, homecoming and prom with my friends — but instead I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I now had to fight for my life.

While my friends were enjoying normal teenage activities, I was having a port placement for my chemotherapy, seeing my hair fall out, watching my eyelashes and eyebrows fall off, and dealing with nausea and severe bone pain.

This not only changed my life, but it changed my family’s life as well. When my hair fell out, I told myself that it was just hair and it would grow back, but we underestimate how much power our hair adds to who we are as a person. That was as one of the weakest moments of my life. I couldn’t help but be depressed.

I remember people saying that Hodgkin’s lymphoma was the “easy” cancer. Let me tell you: there is nothing easy about it. My body made me feel like I was in a constant emotional struggle thinking that this was the end of my life. I forced myself to be strong for myself and my family.

However, it seemed as if life had kept going and forgotten about me. My friends were enjoying their last year in high school, and I was happy for them, but I couldn’t help but feel angry with my situation. I wanted to enjoy the same things they were enjoying, but I couldn’t.

Through it all, I felt fortunate to have the Vannie Cook Clinic so close to home. Everyone at the clinic was great, especially Dr. Rodrigo Erana, who always made me laugh no matter what kind of day I was having.

I can’t imagine how much worse my life could have been if I had been forced to travel far away for the treatment I received, and how difficult it would have been for my parents.

I finished my treatment in December 2017, but just when it was time for my family to close this chapter of our book, my brother Nathan, who was 16 at the time, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well.

This has been so difficult for my entire family. I thank God for my parents and the strength they give us all. Family support has been so important during this time.

My brother and I are fortunate that we were able to maintain a life as close to normal as possible by being with friends and hanging out with family, and this was all because of the clinic being so close to home.

The Vannie Cook Clinic allowed us to stay near family while receiving treatment and the support that we needed. Dr. Erana and the entire clinic have become part of our extended family.