Shahs of Sunset‘s Jessica Parido Shares Her Inspiring Battle with Leukemia
Via People Magazine
Jessica Parido had everything going for her.
As a 14-year-old high school freshman, the future Shahs of Sunset star had booked the lead role in the school play and was ready for her chance to shine. But Parido would never make it onto that stage. After weeks of feeling “weak and tired,” Parido says she was pulled out of class by her father, who gave her some shocking news: She had been diagnosed with leukemia.
“It was a complete and utter shock,” Parido tells PEOPLE. “I remember just one tear dripping down my cheek.” Despite being told she had only a 20 percent chance of survival, Parido refused to give in to fear and immediately resolved to fight for her life.
“I remember saying, ‘Don’t cry, Dad. I’m going to be okay,’ ” she says. “My mind just completely accepted it, and I said, ‘I’m going to beat this. There is no way I’m dying.’ ” What came next was a “whirlwind” of change for Parido, who says she was admitted into a children’s hospital in Yorba Linda, California, and “dove right into treatment.” A bone marrow transplant was suggested as a possibility, but Parido was told there was just a 10 percent chance that anyone in her family would be a suitable donor. Still, her family got tested, and sister Kristina, who was 12 at the time, was deemed a match. “I literally owe her my life,” Parido says.
But the transplant surgery left Parido’s immune system wiped out, and she was put in an isolation room where she would spend the next eight months of her life.
“I was the child in the bubble,” says Parido, who spent her 15th birthday in the hospital. “I became an adult at that point. You grow up fast when you’re in that environment because you’re slapped in the face with reality every day. It completely changed my life.”
But even as she was faced with months of homeschooling and extremely limited access to anyone other than the medical staff and her parents, Parido refused to give up on her positive mentality.
“When my family would come visit, they would be so negative and crying and scared. And I was like, ‘Why are you guys upset? I’m going to be okay,’ ” she says.
To help keep her mind off her illness, Parido dedicated herself to her schooling so she could stay on track to graduate with her friends. She spent her free time making arts and crafts for other sick kids at the hospital.
“It was daunting to be alone for hours on end,” she says. “I became very spiritual and very in tune with myself and my emotions.”
Day by day, Parido grew stronger, and the signs of her illness faded until one day she was finally allowed to go home.
“I just started crying because I hadn’t even smelled fresh air in, like, eight months,” she says of taking her first steps outside the hospital.
Now 26 and still in remission, Parido – who says she became a registered nurse after being inspired by her “amazing” caregivers in the hospital – feels she’s been given “a second chance at life,” which she refuses to take for granted.
“I got accused on the show of being ‘desperate to get married,’ ” Parido says of her short engagement to Shahs of Sunset‘s Mike Shouhed, whom she wed on March 29. “But the reason I was so ‘desperate to get married’ is because I knew what I wanted. At one point in my life, I didn’t know if I was going to make it to this point, so I was ready to start this new chapter in my life.”
And she’s brought that joie de vivre into her new marriage.
“She’s taught me so much about life,” Shouhed says. “She gives me wisdom and strength and the understanding that things could always be worse.”
Currently on their honeymoon trip through Mykonos, Ibiza and Paris, Shouhed says (aside from their on-screen dramatics) he and Parido “try to have a life where there is not a lot of drama or anger or fighting. We try to maintain a healthy lifestyle where we can live out the rest of our years together and grow old together.”
With a yearly check-up the only remnant of her life spent in the hospital, Parido has mostly put her leukemia battle behind her – not that it’s something she wants to forget.
“I don’t look at it as the negative because I would never be the person I am today without that experience in my life,” says Parido, who hopes to start a family with Shouhed as soon as possible. “I was given a second chance at life, and I’m not going to let any day go by that I don’t remember that.”
So sad! What a brave little girl who turned into a strong woman. I watch Shahs Of Sunset and I gotta be honest, she comes off as very mean, stuck up and bitchy to the cast members. It sucks that these reality shows chose to show the bad sides to people and not show some of the good or allow them to share their stories like Jessica’s and be able to understand the people we watch every week a little more. I didn’t fully understand Jessica’s stance with her views with Mike and the rest, however reading this puts things in perspective. Especially why she always rushed him to marry her. She had to grow up fast and she wants things to happen for her because maybe she is scared she’ll get sick again and won’t get the chance to experience any of it. When Mike finally did propose she got a lot of flack for saying in excitement “I am going to be wife” over and over again, I didn’t get it at first either but you know what, even though this wouldn’t be my first reaction – mine would be “I can’t believe I am going to start a family and have a family of my own finally”, every girl is different and none of us know how we’ll react when a proposal, pregnancy and a wedding is happening to us while we are living in these moments, and no longer dreaming about them, and actually going through that out of body experience.
When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with Pilondial Disease and it took me away from all of the 8th grade senior year celebrations. I remember crying when the Doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to walk for a few weeks, I wouldn’t be able to take the huge city-wide final exams nor would I be able to attend the final school trip and the dances. My school worked with us and allowed me to take the exams after I recovered from my first surgery, I was able to attend my graduation and I was honored with a Humanitarian Award. I continued to have multiple surgeries and missed out on so much school in High School. I always felt older than I was and that I was missing out on being a kid. In HS while my friends were hanging out after class and breaking curfew, I had to go straight home and wait for my nurse to come visit me to treat me post-operations for two weeks. I remember every time after a surgery I would walk to school instead of taking a bus and the pain I felt all over my body would leave me in tears but I always pushed myself. I had a blood drainer attached to my wound on my lower back, I couldn’t use the bathroom without help, I couldn’t sit but I always felt okay. Every morning and every night my mother had to place gauze to cover the wound and I was always left embarrassed when my pants would stain with blood. To this day I deal with the effects of the pain, I can’t sit or sleep comfortably. The scar is hideous and I hate that they had to cut open my lower back to my butt crack. I don’t even have a butt crack!! LOL. I tried laser treatments, various medications, home remedies…my mother stopped at nothing to get me better. My 10th operation I even had a double surgery – a plastic surgeon and my surgeon operated on me for 6 hours…we tried everything and anything.
I’ll never forget this moment: I had to hop on the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan to see my Doctor in Beth Israel Hospital one day. I was wearing bright blue velour sweatsuit. I was having trouble sitting down because the pain was insane and my right leg was disabling me from walking and I had to keep pushing and forcing myself to walk and move. So I limped my way up and down stairs and two trains. I get a pat on my shoulder from someone telling me that there is blood on my pants and I just cried. I didn’t know why because I was used to people making me aware that I am bleeding. I finally get to the doctors office and he was so busy and I had to wait for hours. I cried and begged to be seen, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t feel my legs…it was one of those days where I just didn’t feel okay and I didn’t want to pretend I was. I was usually by myself in doctor appointments and I remember looking around wanting someone to help me. But no one could. I put my head against the wall, crying with my knees bent on the chair, finally a nurse came to get me and my amazing Doctor sees me…the cyst was so big it couldn’t even burst, he had to numb me and quickly operate me in his office. I stayed in the room afterwards to rest and I felt defeated. It was one of those rare moments where I was angry at my life and circumstance. I tied a shirt around my waist to cover the blood stain and now the bandage and walked myself to the train station and headed home. The next day the doctor called and told me he made me an appointment to get a CAT scan and he needs me to go to it ASAP. He needed answers and he felt as though something else was wrong. The next day I headed to the city after school, met up with my mother, the needle goes in my arms and I am laying down getting a scan. I remember praying they find something wrong to make sense of it, this can’t just be a disease, it has to be more. I hope I get cancer so my family can understand the pain I am in. Whenever I would cry abou the pain they would bring me down and tell me I am fine stop being dramatic. There was no voice for this disease and no one to explain how terribly painful it is. I wanted to be understood and for my pain to be acknowledged. I no longer wanted to fight this battle and I desperately wanted to feel normal. It was at a time where I felt at my lowest and I was only 16 years old going through it. They didn’t find anything serious and my Doctors have always said they don’t know if anyone else can handle what I went through with it at such a young age.
It wasn’t until I was older and no longer having surgeries, when I found myself missing the whole process of an operation and recovery because it was all I knew. As an adult I didn’t know who I was outside of being sick, and I was being so strong than that I ran out of strength now. I never dealt with what was happening to me, and now I am dealing with it. It wasn’t as severe as having cancer, thank god, but at a young age I still went on a journey full of operations, hospitals, doctors, surgeons, in-home nurses, cat scans, MRI’s and all. To date, I have had 12 operations and 28 emergency hospital procedures. I went through 5 surgeons and multiple doctors who didn’t know how treat me and refused to take my case. I even had to have an emergency surgery when I traveled abroad in the summer in 2003 with my Aunt. I tried to be strong and wait until I got back home to the states to be with my mom and not have a foreign doctor treat me, but I couldn’t walk, the cyst was getting larger and my aunt was terrified for me. My battle with Pilonidal disease has been excruciating. My surgeon says it’s is the most complicated and complex case he’s ever seen and he doesn’t know anyone else who would be able to handle the pain as good as I did. It’s made me grow up so fast and it has made me eager to accomplish anything I want. I missed out on being a normal kid from the situation with my parents divorce and with my surgeries, that as an adult I am still finding it hard to be in the moment because for so long I tried to escape the moments I was living in. So I understand Jessica’s haste to start life already, I feel the same way. I feel older at such a young age that I want to rush life so I won’t have to be in two phases in my life at once. Now that I am 26 years old I am trying to catch up with my age.
I hope next season we’ll see more of Jessica and Mike and her courageous story. She received a lot of flack for how she acted, behaved and what she’s said on the show, but I am sure if all the viewers of the show knew what she went through, they would understand her a lot more.