“The greatest mark of a survivor is how they transform despair into hope.” 

“Your. Child. Is. Sick.” Four crushing words that no parent should ever have to hear. “Their condition — well, it’s life threatening.” A reality no parent should ever have to accept. 

“The thought of their childhood being stripped away ate away at my heart; a reality I was no longer able to tolerate,” Duran says. “So, with very little planning but a whole lot of prayer, I stepped out of my safe and promising corporate career and stepped into their world of pain.” 

Duran left Harris Corporation to join Candlelighters , an organization that assists children battling cancer and their families by offering emotional support and financial aid. 

“Just the very thought of comforting and saving one life was enough for me,” Duran says. “Little did I know that these youthful souls would be the ones to save my life in return.” 

After three months on the job, Duran was asked by the board to be Candlelighters’ new executive director. “What could I possibly know about the anguished needs of the families being served?” Duran says. “And then life stepped in, as it so poetically does, and answered.” 

Weeks after accepting the job, Duran was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a life threatening disease that attacks its owner’s immune system, major organs and joints. 

“I find myself struggling each morning to simply get out of bed, shower and do tasks that I took for granted just years before,” Duran says. “My organs and spine ache with an intensity and jarring persistence that leaves me completely breathless and drenched in my own tears.” 

Duran found herself enduring the same unimaginable pain these children were facing. 

“I cannot begin to compare my health struggles to that of my little fighters, but it is in standing in the pain, crying those same tears, and asking frustrated questions that I got it,” Duran says. “I had been chosen by God, not only to serve our courageous survivors, but also to become a survivor myself.” 

Over the past decade, Duran’s illness has only worsened. But her soul has never been stronger. She has learned from a terminally ill child how to humbly ask for prayers when the pain becomes too overwhelming. From a teenager that planned her own funeral, Duran learned about unbreakable faith and peace. 

“It is them — my fierce little warriors — that I think of while I sit tied to my IV for immunotherapy at the cancer infusion center. If they can fight with so much joy, faith and love as children – who am I not to as an adult?” Duran says. 

“The greatest mark of a survivor is how they transform despair into hope, darkness into light, sadness into joy and doubt into faith,” Duran says. “Only through the mercy, grace and love from God can I stand here today holding a beam of light for the children of Candlelighters. But let it be known that these courageous angels are really the ones holding up their torch of light for me and for all of us in need of inspiration to stand as survivors.” ◆