Life has not been easy for Linda Cifuentes. She grew up in foster care in Colombia and was finally adopted, along with her two younger sisters, by a large San Diego family two years ago.
But just as she started to adjust to her new life, getting used to a new country, language and customs, Linda was faced with a new hurdle last year: she was diagnosed with cancer.
“When the doctor told me that I had cancer, I was very scared. I did not know what was happening,” said Linda, now 16.
"The treatment was hard. I did radiation, chemotherapy, I lost all my hair. It was tough," she said. "Now my cancer is in remission."
“I was stunned by the diagnoses, but quickly got busy taking care of her needs and learning all I could, ” said her mother, Carmen Cifuentes.
While undergoing grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer, Linda discovered a passion, an inner talent that made her feel better during the aggressive procedures.
“My mother brought jewelry making materials to the hospital. I started making earrings and necklaces, my first customer was my nurse at the Naval hospital in San Diego,” said Linda, whose love for jewelry has always been clear to everyone who knew her.
When asked by the Make A Wish granters what she wanted for her once-in-a-lifetime wish, she did not hesitate. She wanted to be mentored by her favorite businesswoman, model, designer and TV media personality: Ivanka Trump.
"I wanted to meet Ivanka Trump, she is a wonderful jewelry designer and a very nice person," said the young designer. "And I am so glad that I met her.”
The Trump’ heiress was determined to make Linda’s wish the best moment in her life. The luxury Ivanka Trump Boutique in Manhattan was closed to the public the day Linda arrived with her family in a limousine and Ivanka herself greeted her at the door.
The surprise did not end there. The family stayed at trendy Trump SoHo Hotel, where they were given clothes, handbags and shoes from Ivanka Trump’s line and they received VIP treatment throughout the trip.
“I felt so special,” said Linda.
“Linda, you are an enormously talented girl with a very bright future,” said Ivanka Trump, as they wore each other’s designs and posed for photos.
Invited by Ivanka, Linda attended JCK, a jewelry show in Las Vegas, where she met the CFO of the Muzo Emerald mines in Colombia, and without much thought asked if he could donate emeralds for the jewelry design she planned to donate for an upcoming Make-A-Wish fundraiser.
She said she was thrilled, and surprised, when she received three high quality emeralds worth $26,000. With the craftsmanship of Don Johnson, head of the Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry design team, along with donations by jewelry suppliers, Linda traveled to New York City to complete her vision: a design she named “Strength in Layers.”
Starting bids for the jewelry, which will be available for auction soon, are $36,000. She will track the auction on her website: LindaDesigns4U.com
“I want to continue learning and make beautiful jewelry," Linda said. "I want my jewelry to make you smile and brighten your day as it does mine.”
Mariela Murdocco is a journalist, TV writer-producer and photographer in New York City.