meet marissa

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Madrid Photography
Every once in awhile something happens - you see something, you hear something - that grounds you back to what is important in life. That moment can almost make you feel foolish. Thinking back about how upset you got because the dishes weren't done when you got home from work. It is natural to lose yourself in life and get caught up in the small things and then right when you are just so fed up [with the small things] you get knocked on your butt and reminded how petty and how small those things really are in life. I just had a moment recently when a dear friend decided to confide in me regarding what her cousin was going through. I was instantly compelled to help in any way I could, with that said I would like you to meet Marissa.
Photo Courtesy of Barbara Madrid Photography

Marissa Almanza is an extraordinary young woman. With just 28 years under her belt she is a new mother and a proud military wife. Taking just one glance at her photos you can clearly see the epitome of a 'happy little family'. Not only is Marissa an extremely family oriented and spiritual woman, but she has a zest for life that can not easily be compared. She enjoys being around her family, in fact it is a rare weekend when she is not near her family.

Marissa met her husband, Ruben, when they were Juniors in High School and have been a couple since 2002. Now married for just shy of 2 years Marissa is as supportive of her husband as ever. Ruben has been in the United States Army for 5 years serving two deployments, one in 2010 and one in 2012 for about a year. Prior to baby boy RJ, Marissa would spend her time traveling back and forth from Arizona to Colorado where Ruben is based. They enjoyed going on hikes and spending as much time together as possible. In the small amount of time they had with each other they spent it giving back as well, walking in the Susan G. Komen walk and raising money for the cure. This year Marissa will be walking in the National Kidney Walk.

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Madrid Photography
Although you wouldn't be able to tell, Marissa's life has not always been easy. At the tender age of 24 Marissa became an incredibly young breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer that thus resulted in a double mastectomy. Unfortunately, her tumultuous ride of battling cancer let on to even more unsettling news. Marissa was diagnosed with kidney disease. She managed the disease and went on to have her very first, beautiful, baby boy named Ruben "RJ". Her precious bundle of joy was born on January 2, 2013 at just 28 weeks and spent the next 6 weeks of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Although RJ is now home with mommy, he still faces his own road of difficulties he will need to overcome, including an upcoming surgery. However, if he is anything like his mother, we know he pull through with great strength. Unfortunately though, the time at which a mother and new child should be sharing what most would consider a joyous new bonding experience has, once more, been tragically interrupted. After the birth of her son, Marissa fell into kidney failure, with less than 17% function, she now requires a kidney transplant and faces the next few years of her life being a roller coaster of ups and downs. Although she will not be alone she will have to face some of this future without her husband by her side.

The thing that is truly remarkable though, is that even in the face of adversity Marissa's outlook on life is still incredibly positive. Marissa doesn’t let uncontrollable circumstances affect her attitude or her happiness. Every day she finds light and positivity in what is happening to her and because of this she able to promote and donate to other women and their own causes. Hoping to achieve a widespread message, that even through unfortunate events, hope and kindness can still truly make a difference. As I was speaking with her, her voice never quivered. Her spirit, unbreakable. Her very being personifies everything that is strength and perseverance. She holds her head high and conquers all of her doctors appointments, her sons appointments and the stresses of being a military wife with such grace. She is an amazing person and truly an incredible inspiration.

Photo Courtesy of Barbara Madrid Photography
Marissa's ambition in life is focused on something that most of us unintentionally take for granted.  When most are aspiring to become corporate bigwigs or find the path of fame Marissa's ambition is to be as healthy as she can be so she can watch her baby boy do anything and everything in life. Learning life lessons that most at 28 wouldn't even think of Marissa shared, "I've learned to never look too far ahead, so many things can change in the blink of an eye" - she wishes no more than to have a healthy family.

To me Marissa is the cousin of a very dear friend and I have never felt more compelled to do everything I can to help her. I am the mother of two young children, had my own health difficulties in life but nothing that can compare to what Marissa has gone and is going through. Baby boy RJ needs his mommy now more than ever.

If you too have been compelled to help here are the ways you can do so:

UPDATE: Marissa decided to cancel all events in order to focus all her energy on caring for her sick son and tend to her own illness. If you are interested in becoming a donor you can read here.

Belladonna Costumes: For every bikini sold Belladonna Costumes will donate $10 per suit. Click here to shop and for more details.

Scentsy: Chelsea with Scentsy will be donating 20% of sales for any sales that are purchased through the Marissa Kidney Foundation link on her website and for any sales at the fundraiser event. Click here to shop.

Jamberry Nails: Alicen with Jamberry Nails will be donating 15% of sales from anyone that purchases from the Marissa Vasquez Almanza Kidney Foundation party on her website. Add items to cart, proceed to checkout and you can your order to Marissa's party. You can shop here.

Bikini Carwash Fundraiser
Partnered with Belladonna Costumes we will be at Discount Tires at 99th and McDowell selling car washes and bikinis to raise money for the Marissa Vasquez Almanza Kidney Foundation you can shop online too.

June 1, 2013 
Calling All Kidneys Fundraiser Banquet
Seven's Lounge
7941 W. Glendale Avenue, Glendale
5:00pm - 12:00am
This event will be held to bring awareness about kidney disease. There will  be speakers that include doctors, donors and recipients. Come meet Marissa and enjoy a great meal. There will be a silent auction, raffle and vendor tables. This event is 21 and over. $20pp. Please RSVP to: 623-760-5401

Unable to attend?
Checks can also be written to Marissa Vasquez Almanza Kidney Foundation at any Wells Fargo Bank.

All money raised will be raised to pay for any/all expenses of the donor including but not limited to travel expenses, time off work to be a match and donate, time off work for recovery, child care expenses, if traveling lodging expense until able to travel home, etc. If by grace we are able to raise enough money to exceed the donor's expenses all remaining funds will be donated to the National Kidney Foundation.

Interested in being a living donor? You can read here and here to learn more.

Special Thanks

Ruben Almanza for his service

Barbara Madrid Photography

Discount Tires

Belladonna Costumes

Sevens Lounge

Jamberry Nails

Origami Owl - Rebekah Gibbons

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  1. I have known this amazing woman since birth. She is my cousin and best friend. I have always looked up to her since I could remember and even more now. She is such a strong woman and in spite of everything we have been through in life she continues to amaze me. I love my family more and more each day. We truely have amazingly nothing but strong women in my family and there are soo many amazing women out here in this life and everyone of them continue to teach me and touch me.. I love everyone of you and most of all my family.. I love you Marissa and every single person in my family. -love Antonie

  2. Barbara Madrid02 April, 2013

    It's truly amazing how people come into our lives. I was asked by my next door neighbor, Chelsea to do a photo shoot of a young family which she was going to feature on her blog. Little did I know how inspired I would be as I packed my gear after the shoot and drove away. Marissa, Ruben and little RJ tugged at my heart strings and tickled my funny bone! They are simply an amazing little family who will always hold a special spot in my heart! You share a special bond as a photographer with those you shoot. You get the rare chance to see a person in a way others might not see them.....through the lens of a camera. You watch as your subject struggles with nerves in the beginning only to find them becoming friends with the camera and even forgetting all about it by the end of the shoot. It was my pleasure to shoot these and many other pictures of Marissa, Ruben and RJ! My hope is that they enjoy the photos and the memories made as much as I enjoyed taking them. I look forward to following this young family in the years ahead and pray that God blesses them in ways that we don't know about yet! Thank you Chelsea for this opportunity and everything else you do! You are the BEST!

  3. I sell thirty-one and would love to do a fundraiser for you as well I have a niece out there who sells premier jewelry I am sure she could do something to help you. If you are interested in more details please contact me I would donate 50% of my commission to your cause one military wife to another we need to help support each other..
    Brandy Richardson

    1. Brandy - I will email you. Thank you for contacting me!

  4. wow God Bless Her and her family. I would like to help anyway I can through my business. Please message me on details. I'm with South Hill Designs. my site it
    My fan page,

  5. As a military spouse and the mother of a child with Kidney disease my heart breaks for this young family. However, Tricare will cover the costs of the transplant and all related medications. I have been managing my own son's disease for almost 7 years and we are routinely seen off post - we have NEVER had an issue with Tricare covering the cost of ANY needed medication or procedure regardless of our location or how last minute it may be.

    1. Nicole - yes, you are correct. Tricare will take care of all Marissa's expenses however the money we are raising is to provide the expenses for the donor. We are trying to raise enough funds so the donor is not out of pocket for anything except a kidney; including expenses like deductibles, time off work, childcare (if needed). We do not want the donor to have to use their personal PTO if at all possible.

  6. It's horrible to hear of such an awful thing happening to such a young person. However, as Nicole states above, Tricare will pay 100% so why are we doing a fundraiser? I know that sounds terribly harsh and I don't mean for it to be but I'm just curious.

    1. I thank you for your inquiry. We are fundraising in the hopes to raise enough money to pay for all of the donor's expenses. Including time off work, deductibles, traveling if the match is someone far away, child care etc. Donating a kidney is value enough - additionally asking them to cover all expenses is what may cause us from finding someone willing to donate. So all of the money raise will go to this effort.

    2. its for the donor to cover expenses. time off work. child care if needed.
      bills. dues to 6/8 weeks recovery being off work.

  7. I'm just curious as to what exactly the donations will be used for thanks

    1. This is Marissa please read my comment to know why we are collecting donations. Thank you

  8. read the end of the story.

  9. Hi all... Thank you all for reading my story and passing it along. For the few of you wanting to know why we are doing the fundraiser and where the money will go and why am I doing this because Tricare pays 100%? With the help of my family and community I want to raise money for MY FUTURE DONOR! I want to with the help of my family, friends and community be able to help this person who is about to save my life!! Why should someone who is giving me such an amazing gift be left with NOTHING? Nothing but the pain from recovery which may be 6-8 weeks long, and have to us thier PTO because MOST jobs do not give the time off they are to use their own hard earned vacation! Its not fair! So I will have as many fundraisers and raise as much money as I can to help whoever is going to save my life! I wouldnt even mind if they enjoyed a nice little vacation after for saving a life! My biggest worry may be they will need a full time nanny after and during recovery. As a new Mom I know I will need the help! Also the kidney foundation has helped so many people, including a friend of mine who is struggling also with a kidney disease. They have helped pay her rent and APS bill soo a portion of money raised will go to them for helping people who are struggling and cant work all the time due to their kidney disease. And I would LOVE nothing more for this message and my story NOT to be about money! You dont have to donate... This message is mostly about awareness, its not only about the money! People out their need to know they have two kidneys and can help someone in this world and save thier life by donating one! And maybe if they knew there was help and money in the end to help then in any financial way maybe just maybe alot more lives would be saved these days! Thank you all... if you passed this story on in hopes to spread the word that I and tons of other people out there need our lives saved by a donor then I thank you! You dont even have to donate just help spread the word!!!!! Thank you!

  10. I am a Former Marine, also a miliary wife and mother. I have 5 kids and have MS so having someone to watch my kids when I have a flareup, to driving them to school or just helping with chores is a HUGE issue when you arent feeling well. Im an Independent Designer with Origami Owl and I would like to do a fundraiser and Im more than happy to donate 50% of the proceeds for Marissa :)


  11. This is a truly inspirational story. You can feel the strength and courage that Marissa has and the unwavering support from friends and even strangers. That's remarkable. And like Marissa said, it's not about the money. It's also about awareness. Keep up the good work spreading the word!

  12. What a great friend you are, and congratulations - I nominated you for a Liebster Award! If you would like more information here is the link:

  13. Hello to all and thanks for reading this remarkable story about my cousin. Marissa Vasquez Almanza is now on the transplant list and ready to find a match. If anyone is interested in donating life to this amazing woman Please contact Winnie Cascon at 602-839-0210 she is the transplant coordinator at Banner Good Samaritian Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. We are also raising money because The insurance now only covers 80% of the surgery. Thanks again!