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Police chief, 2-year-old team up

Modified: Friday, Aug 23rd, 2013

Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano and "Team Effy" member Elizabeth Watson, 2, who are both fighting cancer, are joined by Jennifer Watson Thursday at Jacob's Heart to make a video supporting the Children's Cancer Support Services center. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — When Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano was recently diagnosed with cancer, and his “world was turned upside down,” an unlikely partnership evolved from his predicament: Turning a negative into a positive, Solano joined forces with another cancer patient, 2-year-old Elizabeth “Effy” Watson, to form “Team Effy.”

“Together, we are going to face this head-on,” Solano said. “Effy was diagnosed a few days before me so that makes me the rookie and her the leader.”

Brought together by local realtor, DeeDee Vargas, on Thursday Solano, Effy and her parents, Jennifer and James Watson, met at Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services where Solano and his new team member were making a promotional video for Jacob’s Heart.

“My family and I are just one of many that have had their lives turned upside down with a diagnosis of cancer, in my case myeloma,” Solano said during the video session. “The day I was given the news of my illness, I had a chance encounter at Jacob’s Heart and received comfort and resources that helped me understand the long road ahead. At the same time, I learned of the many children locally who are facing similar circumstances … Effy being one of them. I’m so glad that we have Jacob’s Heart who is here to help these children and their families who are struggling to navigate this overwhelming but winnable journey.”

Lori Butterworth, who founded Jacob’s Heart in 1998, said she has just returned to Jacob's Heart as executive director when the organization needed her leadership. Butterworth and Solano had been working together with the Watsonville Youth City Council and the Criminal Justice Council.

“It was hard when I had to tell Manny that I needed to resign my positions with the Youth City Council and the Criminal Justice Council in order to return very quickly to Jacob's Heart." she said. “But after a few days back at Jacob's Heart, when Manny came in and shared his own diagnosis, we knew I was in the right place at the right time. Manny has always been a great supporter of the community and our youth and now there is the incredible partnership with Team Effy. These are incredible people that we have the honor to walk through life with. To reach out and support others, like Effy, when you're fighting cancer yourself is truly heroic.”

Jennifer Watson said her daughter Effy was initially brought to the hospital with a strange lump on her side, which turned out to be nothing and went away. However, blood samples taken then exposed a problem and Effy’s family had to make a trip to Stanford Medical Center where they were hit with the news that Effy had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“It is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Watson, said. “We were shattered. They started treatment immediately. Effy now goes in for intense chemotherapy twice a week. Right now she basically has no immune system. She’s been great through all of it; I think she’s doing better than the rest of us.”

James Watson said that Effy’s leukemia is most common in young children and that it has a 90 percent survival rate. He said his daughter is “doing well.”

Indeed, Effy played a key role in the video and triggered rounds of laughter when she managed to follow a cue to give the thumbs up sign at the conclusion of the video, a sign that has become her symbol for success. She even improvised a refreshing “yea” in the final seconds of the video and then shared high-fives with people in the room.

Funds to support the Watson family are being raised at St. Francis Central Coast Catholic High School where Jennifer Watson is vice principal and an athletic director and James Watson is a computer technician.

“The senior class at St. Francis came forward and bought Team Effy T-shirts,” Vargas said. “All the money from the T-shirts goes right to the family.”

Solano, who will now serve as an honorary board member at Jacob’s Heart, said he is on the waiting list to begin six weeks of intense radiation treatments in hopes of blasting his rare blood cancer away altogether.

Though he has long been a supporter of Jacob’s Heart, his illness, he said, reinvigorated his passion for the organization that is celebrating 15 years.

“Right now Jacob’s Heart is helping 32 families deal with their children’s cancer in Watsonville, and more than 100 families in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.

“There are even more coming to us from Monterey County,” Butterworth said. “Above all I really want to be the kind of leader at Jacob’s Heart that Manny has been at Watsonville Police Department.”

During the video session, Solano said, “While I may not fit their age profile, Jacob’s Heart was there for me in the time of need and now I ask that you (the public) join me in supporting them so they can help others.”

For information contact: Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services 2007 Freedom Blvd., Freedom, CA 95019 or call 724.9100. They can be reached online at www.info@jacobsheart.org

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