Home > Family Stories > Juliana smiles bright even through relapse

Pulling open the door and stepping down onto the patio, 12-year-old Juliana Carver grins as she catches her first glimpse of the water. Leaning over the railing, she inhales deeply and says, “Ah, the smell of ocean water…I just want to jump in!” It is the first day of the Carver family’s respite to the Believe In Tomorrow House on the Bay, and the family of eight could not be more excited to get away.

Juliana Carver

Juliana is in the middle of her third relapse for rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of muscle cancer, which she has been fighting since the age of five. Adopted by her parents from an orphanage in Minsk, Belarus at just 20 months old, this was the second scary, life-changing situation she’d had to face. With the support of her five older siblings and loving parents, she tackled each day with an amazing amount of courage.

Just about six months after her 2007 diagnosis, Juliana and her family enjoyed a weeklong respite at both the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea in Ocean City, Maryland, and the Believe In Tomorrow House on Wisp Mountain in Western Maryland. A few years went by before they received the devastating news that Juliana had relapsed in summer 2011. Juliana’s mom, Tamara, recalls that the relapse was even harder for their family than the initial diagnosis because Juliana’s siblings were much older and understood more of what this meant for their baby sister.

Again, the Carver family found a ray of sunshine in Believe In Tomorrow with another week at the Believe In Tomorrow House By The Sea. “It gives us a chance to actually breathe,” said Juliana’s dad, John. “When you’re home and running to the hospital every day and every week, you get into that grind and you don’t really get a chance to live. You’ve given us a chance to bond again as a family, to hang out and just be normal again.”

Juliana on a boat

Juliana enjoying a boat ride at the beach.

Each time at the beach, the Carver family has enjoyed activities like Jolly Roger theme park, family portraits on the beach, cruising across the waves on the OC Rocket and in fishing boats, and mini golfing. There is no shortage of activities that they like to do all together as a family!

Just a few weeks ago, Juliana and her family went on their third beach respite, this time to the Believe In Tomorrow House on the Bay.
Juliana relapsed for the third time in May this year, so they were looking forward to this week at the beach more than ever before. In one of John’s YouTube videos of the trip, a smiling Juliana picks up handfuls of sand and says, “I can’t wait to sit and let the waves hit my feet and legs!”

Juliana was also thrilled to learn that a friend of hers was on a respite there at the same time. Twelve-year-old Emily Kolenda and Juliana got to know each other while in and out of the hospital for treatment, and a week together at the beach was just what the doctor had ordered!

Juliana in the ocean

Juliana loves the ocean more than anything!

Juliana’s mom said this past trip was the kids’ favorite because they got to fish and crab off the pier at the Believe In Tomorrow House on the Bay. Though they threw all the fish back, they caught enough crabs to steam and eat a few!

“There are plenty of years we wouldn’t have gone on a vacation if it hadn’t been for you guys,” said Tamara. “It’s something to look forward to besides another day at the hospital. It’s not something you do just once; you have been with us the whole time for 7 ½ years.”

Although Juliana is undergoing several types of oral chemotherapy, she still keeps her head up high and takes every day with a smile on her face. She is really looking forward to her next Believe In Tomorrow outing – a ride on the MetLife Snoopy Blimp through our Hands On Adventures program!