"Luciana Strong" Saintettes dance team rallies around Luciana Villalobos' fight

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

For Alexis Herrera, a junior at St. James High School and a member of the Saintettes dance team, and her family, the last year has not been easy.

Just over a year ago, her mom, Luciana Villalobos, was diagnosed with a benign tumor behind her eye and underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Last month at a checkup, it was discovered that the tumor returned.

"Last year was hard because that's when it had just started," said Herrera. "Knowing that she has to go through it again really sucks."

Doctors recommended that Villalobos undergo six weeks of daily radiation. The 45-minute radiation sessions are two hours away.  

Upon hearing the news, her other family, the Saintettes, sprang into action to help. Senior captain Mara Pauling started the effort to come to the aid of her teammate's family.

"It was kind of a 'what should we do?' We need to do something to support Alexis," said Saintettes head coach Beth Johnson. "One of the things I'm proud of year after year is that our team becomes a family. I really work hard to make that happen and so do our captains. It was a no-brainer that we were going to do something, it was just a matter of what can we do?"

The Saintettes decided to go with a t-shirt campaign, with the phrase "Luciana Strong" on them. 

"It feels really good knowing that I have a lot of support with me and my family, especially with the dance team," said Herrera. "I can trust them, and I know they'll always be there for me"

Villalobos is an Assistant Director for school-age childcare and a para for pre-kindergarten classes in St. James.

"She has been a wonderful employee and she’s wonderful with the children," said Community Ed. Director Sue Harris. "This is our way of being able to support her."

Johnson says that once word got out about the fundraiser, her phone was constantly blowing up with messages and requests for shirts.

"I was getting so many messages between emails, text messages, and Facebook Messenger I could hardly keep up," said Johnson. "I still am so worried that I am going to miss one... St. James always is wonderful when it comes supporting people in troubled times and this is no exception."

Johnson and Pauling have a document shared between them to add and track orders.

The first deadline to purchase a shirt was on Friday, Feb. 25. Johnson estimates that 130 shirts were sold at $15 each.

"I just try to make something positive out of it," said Herrera. "I don't want her to see that it's getting to me and I want to make sure that I'm strong with her and around her and that my younger siblings are taken care of and that he's okay with it."

The Saintettes plan to wear the "Luciana Strong" shirts on Friday at sections.

"We don't want Luciana to have to worry about anything but getting better," said Johnson. 

To order a shirt contact Beth Johnson or Mara Pauling with your size and quantity. Payment can be made through Venmo cash or check. The shirts are $15 each.  

A GoFundMe has also been organized for Villalobos.

To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/luciana-villalobos-radiation-treatment-support?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_cp%20share-sheet&fbclid=IwAR0VR3RLfwnkEqpVa86IUOcxGlnocibuQ2RIWAi1tbMPycUfjcASyhJSyKI

As of Monday night, the GoFundMe, with a goal of $6,000, had received $3,810 from 64 donors. 

For those who want to donate directly to Villalobos, an account has been set up in her name at First National Bank in St. James.