News | Youth Moving On


Hillsides Mother and Daughter Learn What’s Really Important this Mother’s Day

(PASADENA, CA) For some women, Mother’s Day is a joyous occasion to honor their moms.  For others, it’s more a rite of obligation.  And for still others, who are dealing with a chronic illness of a mother, the holiday takes on a special poignancy.

Hillsides Chief Advancement Officer Nancy Garni was diagnosed with leukemia in January.  She’s undergone three rounds of chemotherapy, is soon to face a fourth, and is awaiting a stem cell transplant that will give her the best chance of a recovery. Besides being a driving force at Hillsides where Garni has worked for more than 25 years, she is also a mother.  Her daughter, Kati Farina, is 23 and also works at Hillsides.

Mother’s Day has always meant a lot to Farina  because she is an only child and was raised primarily by her mother after her parents split up when she was two.  But this year, said Farina,  “I’ve never been more grateful to have my mom in my life. I’ve realized that everything I have and who I am today, is because of her. She is so kind and generous, and has such a strong spirit. I am so happy to be able to be with her that day and enjoy the time with her.”

The months since Garni’s  diagnosis have not been easy for Farina,  but she says she has gained strength from the way her mother has handled her illness. “Her commitment to and persistence in beating this [disease] makes me even much more appreciative of being her daughter,” she said.  

Garni draws her strength in part from her decision to control what she can in her life. “I refuse to be defined as a sick person,” she said. “Every day, I get up, and think about two – three things I want to get done in the day, and this sustains me.” 

She’s a person of faith, she adds. “I have to believe there is a cure on the horizon for me.”  She also feels she is in the best hands possible – those of Dr. Stephen Forman at City of Hope in Duarte, CA.   Dr. Forman is a co-leader of the  Hematologic Malignancies Program and an  international expert in leukemia and lymphoma.   

In addition, Garni is focused on giving back, just as she has for the last quarter of the century at Hillsides. She is dedicated to spreading the message about the need for stem cell donors for patients with leukemia and other blood cancers. “This keeps me focused on hope, rather than on the reality of my disease,” she said.   

Both mom and daughter have discovered that unforeseen benefits have come along with the illness.  “I try to see it as a blessing as it’s helped me crystallize what’s really important in my life, my family:  Kati, and my husband Mike,” said Garni.     

Farina’s priorities have changed as well. “The trauma I’ve experienced has been like nothing else, and it’s jolted me into realizing I have to take care of myself,” she said.  She now makes sure to eat healthy and most nights after work, walks the three-mile loop around the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

For Mother’s Day, Farina, Garni, Garni’s husband, and some friends will be going out to one of Garni’s favorite restaurants for lunch and then will sit in Garni’s English garden at her home in Pasadena, CA for dessert and presents.

Both are real treats for Garni.  Due to the risk of infection caused by a low white blood cell count, since starting treatment she has been unable to go out in public or enjoy her garden where she used to spend hours tending her hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and lavender plants.

Garni’s blood cell count is currently stable enough for her to spend time in the garden on Mother’s Day and to even don a pair of gardening gloves and help her daughter and husband do some planting.  

 “We’ve both learned to appreciate the moment,” said Farina.  “That’s what we will be doing, surrounded by family and friends, this Sunday.”


About Hillsides

Hillsides is a Pasadena-headquartered non-profit  dedicated to improving the overall well-being and functioning of vulnerable children, youth, and families throughout Los Angeles County.   For more information, please visit


CONTACT: Marisol Barrios
Office: (323) 543-2800 ext. 128
Cell 310 713-8567



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