Dance workout class this Saturday will support Marfa two-year-old’s cancer battle

Photo courtesy of Marisol Ely. Marfa resident Nevaeh Ely-Vasquez, 2, has been undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia since August. This Saturday, Zumba instructors from Marfa, Alpine and Presidio will hold a class at the Saint George Hall to support Ely-Vasquez and her family as she receives treatment in El Paso.

MARFA — When Elizabeth Gutierrez heard that Marfa two-year-old Nevaeh Ely-Vasquez had been diagnosed with cancer this summer, she felt called to action. Gutierrez, a Zumba instructor, got busy recruiting fellow teachers Angela Ramos of Presidio and Keila Vargas of Alpine to join her in hosting a Zumbathon — a dance workout event to raise funds to support the toddler’s cancer treatment. On Saturday, October 2, the trio of certified instructors will welcome the public to join them at 6:30 p.m. in the Saint George Hall for dancing, food and drinks, with all proceeds going toward the toddler’s fight against cancer.

Nevaeh was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two months ago, and her family quickly uprooted their lives in Marfa to seek rapid treatment in El Paso. They struggled to find a place to live and the young girl began receiving intensive treatments.

The generosity of their fellow Marfans has already helped the family through the first part of the journey. “A lot of her medicine wasn’t covered by insurance,” her mother, Marisol Ely, explained, including steroids and certain chemotherapy drugs. Donations to the family allowed them to get an apartment in El Paso while Nevaeh undergoes treatment, to cover some hospital bills denied by insurance and to pay for a machine for the young girl’s breathing treatments.

The youngster is responding well to treatment, her mom said. “She gets a little tired and can’t really walk sometimes after chemo, and she’s starting to lose her hair,” said Ely, “but overall she’s been happy.”

As treatment goes on and medical expenses continue to arise, the family is grateful to have the financial help from their community. “For Elizabeth, I’d like to say thank you so much. We’re really grateful and appreciate it a lot, and hopefully we can be there Saturday if Nevaeh is feeling up to it,” Ely said.

It’s Gutierrez’s first time trying a Zumba fundraiser, saying, “We will still do our thing, which is dancing and giving good vibes, and then doing it for someone like Nevaeh, that’s even better.”

Gutierrez said she felt particularly moved to help, in part because her own daughter is around Marisol’s age, and both girls had children of their own around the same time. “My daughter went to school with Marisol, and the difference between my grandson and Nevaeh is just a few months,” Gutierrez said. “My daughter got pregnant first and then it was Marisol, so they were going through the same thing.”

Cancer had also recently hit close to home for Gutierrez, when the son of her niece recently passed from leukemia. “It hits closer,” she explained. “You find out life is short, and when it’s a little person, it’s more painful for everyone, especially the parents.”

Lissa Castro of the Hotel Saint George heard about the event from Gutierrez and donated the hotel’s hall space for the Zumba instructors to have a spacious, air conditioned venue. Rob Crowley will help with sound and lighting at the event, and Nevaeh’s family will be selling drinks, #NevaehStrong bracelets and burritos. 

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, but attendees should come early to check in and sign a waiver. The class is $15, though Gutierrez said donations beyond that amount are welcome. Because the instructors’ time, the venue and the food are being donated, all proceeds from the event will go directly towards expenses incurred by the family for her treatment.

Disclosure: Marisol Ely is a former employee of The Big Bend Sentinel and her mother, Maria Gerardo, is a current employee of The Big Bend Sentinel.