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My Family's Ongoing Battle with Cancer

It’s amazing how seemingly little things sometimes turn into life-altering experiences. Back in early December 2005 it came to my attention that my mom wasn’t feeling quite like herself. It began with a cough, which seemed to aggravate her vocal chords. My siblings and I weren’t worried it; was only a cold, after all. At least, that was what we thought until my mother saw an otolaryngologist who then sent her to a thyroid specialist. After some testing, the thyroid specialist found cysts on her vocal chords and recommended surgery. The entire family was in shock.

Initially he scheduled surgery for December 23rd—two days before Christmas, but it did not happen until January 2nd in the city of João Pessoa in northeast of Brazil.

I was living in Orange County; my mother and siblings in Brazil. I had plans to spend the holidays in New Jersey, and I couldn’t take any more time off from work. I felt terrible about it. The entire time I was on the East Coast, all I could think about was my mother. We hadn’t been close in recent years and now that she was ill, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and regret.

I wondered: “Was it too late to say, ‘I’m sorry’? Do I still have time to tell her how much I love her?”

To allay my fears, I did some research on my mother’s doctor; his reputation gave me a bit more confidence that she was in good hands. I also spoke with him the day before the surgery. I told him that God was going to be holding his hand while he was performing the surgery on my mom, and angels would be at that surgery center illuminating them. He was very receptive and always has been.

The night before the surgery, I spoke to my mother and told her that everything was going to be fine. Her faith is strong; she never doubted it. My brother kept me updated about her surgery through the next several hours.

I never felt as close to God, nor had such divine inspiration, as I had that night. I started to fast and pray at 6:00 p.m. In the early morning hours, while waiting for the sunrise, I composed two songs. They became my prayers.

During surgery, the doctors removed the affected vocal chord, but in the process accidently ruptured my mother’s esophogus. I knew it was an accident, but it didn’t take away any of her discomfort. Unbeknownst to us, they also found a larger mass near my mother’s heart. It was Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The doctors chose not to remove it due to its proximity to her heart and instead opted for chemotherapy treatments.

Over the next two months, my mother went through a battery of tests at FAP Hospital in Paraiba, which serves cancer patients in that area of Brazil. She did not hear back from her doctors with the test results. I called the hospital and the doctors to put some pressure on them, but had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I decided to go home to Brazil and visit my mom to make sure she was okay. She had spent a great deal of time in the hospital and was finally back home. We were all under the impression that she was on her way to recovery.

It wasn’t until I contacted the surgeon for a follow-up appointment that I discovered otherwise. He asked me if my mother had started her treatments yet. Treatments? No one had bothered to inform her about the lymphoma that they had found. She would need to start chemotherapy immediately. After several rounds of chemo, there was no change in the tumor’s size or appearance. The drugs were not killing off the cancer cells. The doctors decided to use radiation treatments to try to reduce the size of the mass.

I was visiting my mother while she was receiving her treatments. She began to develop a host of other health conditions not related to the cancer, but to the radiotherapy. It was then that I realized the importance of the equipment used to deliver the treatment. The unit being used at the hospital was not only killing off the cancer cells in my mother’s tumor, but much of the healthy tissue surrounding it.

I spoke with one of the hospital directors, who concidently was one of my pofessors at the University. He told me that the equipment was out of date, but the hospital didn’t have the funds to purchase the newer, more precise radiotherapy unit. (See our Pioneer Project)