People across the Rio Grande Valley came out in full force 22 years ago to support Monica Montanaro, a senior at McAllen Memorial High School.
Monica was fighting osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
A group of Monica’s classmates became known as Monica’s Angels when they worked with Rosemary Treviño, a local angel-pin designer, to create a “Monica” angel. People lined up on Dec. 18, 1998, Monica’s 18th birthday, for the first Monica’s Angels Day.
They were there to purchase an angel. More than 800 names were on the waiting list by the end of the day.
Always an Angel
Cristina Guerra Seal is one of the original Angels. Now 38 and living in Houston, Seal began her own fight in June when she discovered a lump in her left breast.
“Now, my baseline mammogram will have cancer,” Seal said. “People should not have to wait to feel a lump to be able to have a baseline mammogram.”
Current guidelines call for women of average risk to begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, switching to every other year at age 55. According to the American Cancer Society’s website, women “should have a choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40.”
That would not have helped Seal. She now advocates for insurance to cover a baseline mammogram at 35 for those, like her, with no family history of breast cancer.
Seal discovered the lump on May 16 and had her gynecologist examine her on May 22. A mammogram and ultrasound were done on May 26. She contacted MD Anderson in Houston on May 29. Her first appointment there was on June 3.
Doctors diagnosed Seal with Stage 2A Grade 3 breast cancer. An MDA surgeon inserted her port June 23 with her first of six rounds of chemo on June 24. She has now completed five rounds. The plan is for Seal to undergo surgery in November.
When a group of Seal’s fellow Angels learned of her diagnosis, they contacted Andrea Escobar, a jewelry designer in Brownsville. Escobar began making jewelry 17 years ago when her mother opened And the Bead Goes On. The name has since changed to Bead Craftworks and Escobar now owns the store.
The Angels asked her to design a Cristina bracelet to help their fellow Angel. She immediately said yes.
“I saw this as an opportunity to give back,” Escobar said. “I feel blessed because of all the things the Lord has done for me, and this pulled on my heart strings.”
Edna and Alexandria Posada, owners of Leona, a boutique in McAllen, offered to carry the Cristina bracelets.
“A Leona woman carries herself strongly, with unique style, and radiates positivity everywhere she goes, and that is exactly what Cristina Guerra Seal represents,” Alexandria Posada said.
Paying It Forward
Escobar designed the original Cristina bracelet in 10 color choices and three charm choices. They are an angel, a single angel wing or double angel wings. One of the double angel wings, Escobar explained, represents Montanaro, “our angel in heaven,” and the other, Cristina, “our angel on earth.”
Montanaro passed away on May 30, 2000, at the age of 19. Trevino continued to design an annual “Monica” angel for more than 10 years to help families in the Valley whose children were undergoing cancer treatment. It was Monica’s dream for these efforts to continue.
Leona launched the Cristina bracelet Aug. 22 on National Be An Angel Day. The first customer at the store was Montanaro’s dad, Alfredo. The bracelets sold out quickly. Pre-orders for more bracelets had to be stopped two days later to allow Escobar time to make each one by hand. They are now back in stock.
Escobar traveled to Houston last month to find the perfect beads for a special edition Cristina bracelet.
“We are so excited about the Special Edition bracelet because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Edna Posada said. “This new Cristina bracelet is a great way for us to support women who are going through breast-cancer treatments.”
For Seal, the Monica’s Angels’ Cristina bracelet is not only about her. One of Seal’s best friends since kindergarten, Erica Villarreal Ellis, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. She has been a “light” for Seal, guiding the way.
“I have such a supportive husband and a strong support system,” Seal said. “I want to pay it forward to someone who doesn’t know anyone who has been through this.” Part of her outreach includes her Facebook group, Crissy’s Crusade.
Seal plans to donate part of the proceeds from the Cristina bracelet to help someone else going through breast-cancer treatment. She is hoping to help light the way for others.