Community Comes Together to Help UTEP Family

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Melanie and Jose Mora and their 9-year-old son, Kaii, are huge UTEP Miner fans.

In a promotional video for the 2012 UTEP football season, the family – dressed in Miner orange – bustles with energy as Kaii puts on a football jersey and runs outside to Jose, who is loading a cooler into the family’s SUV while Melanie attaches a Miner flag to the car’s window.From left, Jose, Kaii and Melanie Mora. Photo courtesy of left, Jose, Kaii and Melanie Mora. Photo courtesy of  

“We just like to support our school. That’s where we came from. This is our city. We wanted to show that we’re behind them (UTEP football) 100 percent,” said Melanie Mora, a 2009 graduate from the UTEP School of Nursing.

Now the Mora family is getting some much-needed support in return from the UTEP and El Paso communities.

Since 2004, Jose Mora, who graduated from the College of Business Administration in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in finance, has been battling synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer which usually occurs near the joints of the arm, neck or leg.

An experimental treatment that Jose needs to continue his fight is not covered by his insurance, but friends, family and strangers have pitched in to help the Moras raise $50,000 to pay for four $10,000 treatments, plus travel expenses to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

On Nov. 28, Crystal Carbajal, also a UTEP nursing graduate, and a group of friends known as Team Mora, launched, a fundraising site where people can donate money to help the Moras with their medical expenses.

In 12 hours, the group collected more than $12,000. Eleven days later, 294 people had donated $33,315.    

“Melanie and I were trying to see what we could sell and get money for my treatments,” said Jose Mora, an import specialist agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “The support has given me a sense of greater hope for my future, an overwhelming sense of joy in my heart, a numbness of happiness on how a community can come together and help one in need. God works in mysterious ways.”

A story about the Moras in the El Paso Times motivated Bill Farnsworth, D.N.P., a clinical associate professor in the UTEP School of Nursing, to suggest to the school’s faculty members that they donate 20 percent from the faculty fund account to the family. They agreed to give nearly $500.

Melanie Mora, who started the nursing program in 2007, was one of Farnsworth’s students. He remembers Mora caring for her husband and toddler son while maintaining a full course load. 

“She never complained about all the demands of nursing school and having to care for a husband with cancer who needed to go to M.D. Anderson frequently for therapy, and the responsibility of maintaining a household and caring for her son,” Farnsworth remembers. “She always had a positive outlook and completed our program without having to drop or retake any course.” 

For Melanie Mora, quitting school was not an option. She’s grateful to her classmates and the school’s faculty members for helping her get through the nursing program. 

“My husband did not want me to drop out because – God forbid – if something happened to him, I would need a good job,” Mora said.

During her sixth semester of nursing school, Melanie Mora would take her books to the hospital and study while Jose was getting his treatment. Her classmates would join her and help her study for her exams. She also would turn in papers from Houston when she traveled with her husband to M.D. Anderson.

“I had my School of Nursing professors behind me 100 percent. They really helped me through it,” Mora said.

Melanie Mora had dreamed of becoming an oncology nurse since she was 9 years old and saw how kind and caring the nurses were who treated her grandmother with breast cancer. But while doing a clinical rotation as a nursing student in an oncology unit, she changed her mind when she comforted a family whose loved one had just been diagnosed with cancer. For Mora, the situation hit too close to home.

After graduating from UTEP, Mora went to work in the intensive care unit at Las Palmas Medical Center, where she met Carbajal. Mora again felt that becoming an oncology nurse was her calling, and a year later she started working at Texas Oncology.

“I feel I provide something as a caregiver as well as a nurse, so I understand what the patient is going through and what the spouse is going through,” Mora said. “I feel like I provide a different type of support.”

Melanie Mora is her husband’s number one supporter.

“We’re a team. I’m his coach and he’s the MVP. That’s what we tell each other,” Mora said.

She has been by his side while he has undergone five surgeries, one of which resulted in the partial removal of his left lung, and multiple chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In August, doctors found a lump on his right lung, which they deemed inoperable. Instead, they suggested an expensive experimental treatment to shrink the mass.

The treatment is not covered by Jose’s health insurance, and the family is in the process of appealing the company’s decision. The company that makes the drug offers a patient assistance program but the Moras did not qualify, so they also are appealing that decision.

Instead, the family decided to sell their house and Jose’s mother emptied her bank account to help pay for her son’s first treatment.

Team Mora started planning a bowling fundraiser and Carbajal created a website where people who were unable to attend could still donate. Their goal was to raise at least $10,000 to pay for one treatment. Carbajal added a link to her Facebook page, and thanks to the power of social media, news spread across the Internet.

“I love Melanie and Jose. They’re more than friends; they’re family. For Jose not to get his treatment because they didn’t have the money, that’s just not going to happen,” Carbajal said.

So far, Jose Mora has received two treatments. The treatments are scheduled every two weeks but he needs to travel to Houston weekly for blood work and to monitor his health. They couple also has bills from previous medical expenses and may still need to sell the house. 

The family is usually in the stands at UTEP football and basketball games, but this year they were only able to attend a couple of football games because of Jose’s condition. And as much as Jose wants to attend the basketball games, he’s unable to because he’s too tired. Instead, he watches the games if they’re on TV or streams them online.

While times may be tough, the Mora family continues to hope.

“You either have choice A or choice B when it comes to cancer, and my husband and I have always been the type that we continue to live life as normally as possible,” Melanie Mora said. “We do not let it get us down. We have some days that are harder than others, but that’s okay because that’s normal. But we pull ourselves out of that little funk and we keep pushing forward.”