For most people, cancer is a bombshell they never expected. Unfortunately for Cris Persico, a native of Argentina, cancer is like a ghost that has haunted her, following her from her childhood into adulthood.
Both her parents died of the disease when she was a young adult.
Then, in 1995, the youngest of her four children, Francesca (“Frenchie”), then 3, was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer, in her adrenal gland. After Frenchie came through a year of chemo and a bone marrow transplant, in 1996, Persico’s husband, José, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
José received the same two treatments as Frenchie, but relapsed in 2001 and died five months later. At the end of that year Frenchie relapsed, and she died in September of 2002.
Persico is passionate about keeping the memory of her husband and daughter alive. On the day of our interview, she pulled two 8-by-10 framed photos from her purse.
“I love to talk about [José and Frenchie]. Every time I talk about them, I bring them alive,” she says in her smooth, lilting Argentinean accent. Persico’s most comforting memory happened during Frenchie’s relapse. She told her mom: “If I die, I want you to know that I know you love me.”
“I’m so grateful for what I had,” Persico says. “Not many people have the luck or the joy to find the loving husband I had, to build the life I built.” A former professional dancer in Argentina, Persico now works as a movement awareness trainer and a simultaneous Spanish-English interpreter. She believes in a “soul with body” connection. “All those losses made me appreciate life and movement and balance,” she says.
Persico is involved with the Little Heroes Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, and also helps with the community events Frenchie’s classmates created to celebrate her life and raise money for cancer care: “Frenchie’s Fest” (a carnival on Frenchie’s birthday) and “Frenchie’s Skate” (a figure skating showcase). She’s on the Woman’s Board of the Chicago region Division of the American Cancer Society and teaches free fitness and nutrition classes to children and adults in Highwood.
Persico believes what she went through with her parents helped her cope with Frenchie and José’s illnesses. “Just like in fitness, your muscles get stronger—your heart gets fit. Life is not going to stop for you to get better. you’ve got to keep going and see how you can turn the experience into a strengthening tool for your life.”