I owe my life to the surgeons, the nurses and the rest of the medical team at City of Hope. They don’t walk away from you. They say, “You have cancer, but we are going to fight this. And we’re going to keep on fighting it.”
I was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001. I received treatment where I live, here in Las Vegas. But I went through a series of complications that had me in and out of the hospital.
My sister, who was living in California at the time, would take time off from her job at a doctor’s office to come and be with me. When the doctor found out why, he said to her, “Why don’t you take her to City of Hope? It’s one of the best cancer hospitals on the West Coast.”
Once my sister got in touch with City of Hope, everything happened quickly. Within two days, we had all the scans and reports ready to go, and off we went to City of Hope. At that point, in 2002, I weighed only 79 pounds. and wore a girl’s size 12 dress.
I call my surgeon at City of Hope, Dr. Lily Lai, the angel on my shoulder. She’s one of my favorite people. We bonded right from the start because she understands my sense of humor.
She has performed multiple surgeries on me, and I never felt like she was going for a quick fix — “get her in and get her out.” She’s a sincere person who takes care of me and cares about my family. She also has worked well with my oncologist in Las Vegas, Dr. Manno, whom I call my knight in shining armor.
Dr. Lily, as I call her, has seen me through a couple of fistulas. Basically, as a result of tissue damage, waste was going where it shouldn’t be. For a long time, I refused to consider a colostomy bag. I thought it would limit my life. But with the second fistula, about seven years ago, it became clear that either I would have a colostomy bag or I would die.
I said, “Well, there’s no choice, is there? Because I want to live.”
Now I consider myself lucky. I weigh a healthy 130 pounds. I tell people, “You know what? Having to wear a colostomy bag isn’t the worst thing in the world. The main thing is that you get to keep on living.”
The people at City of Hope would save my life one more time.
During a checkup, Dr. Lily noticed something strange on my scan. A biopsy showed that my colon cancer had spread to my lung, so Dr. Frederic Grannis removed the tumor through a gentler kind of procedure than an open surgery.
Throughout my encounters with cancer and its complications, I’ve held onto my faith and refused to give up fighting. I wasn’t fighting for myself. I fought for the people who love me.
You see, Dr. Lily, Dr. Grannis and Dr. Manno didn’t just save a woman. They saved a grandmother, a mother, a sister, an aunt and a daughter. They saved all these people in one person.
Ever since my diagnosis, my whole family has become closer. We know how close I was to death. Two times I had my last rites given to me.
And life is so, so beautiful, especially with my 5-year-old grandson, Gabriel. I’ve taught him to smell flowers. I’ve taught him how to hold ladybugs. I’ve taught him the beautiful things in life.
The one thing that’s important to me is to make memories for my son, my grandson and my daughter-in-law. And that’s the point of the fight: I am still here.
Today, when people find out I had cancer twice, they say, “I look at you, and there’s no way you’ve had cancer.”
I tell them, “It all depends on where you go for help.”