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Yoli Diaz’s friend, Gisela Alvarez, kept bugging her.
“You need to have the priest do an anointing and say a blessing for you,” Gisela said.
Yoli kept putting it off, but the night before her scheduled cancer surgery Fr. Alex Urena showed up. He anointed her and prayed with Yoli and her friends.
Whether you credit the anointment, constant prayers, the support of friends, early detection, the doctors’ skills, Yoli’s positive attitude or a combination of all of these, she came through the surgery eight months ago feeling “excellent.”
Sixteen years ago, Yoli wasn’t feeling excellent about her son, Mario. He had contracted melanoma at age 23, then got it three more times, and he endured five surgeries.
“I was amazed at his positivity,” Yoli said. “He had a three-year-old daughter, Jazmin, and was just starting his life.”
A few years later, in 2009, her father, Emilio Rigales, contracted lung cancer and died at age 79. Her mother, Emilio’s wife of more than 50 years, Amalia, passed away 18 weeks later.
Watching her son, and then her father, face the ravages of cancer motivated Yoli to do whatever she could to help those battling the disease.
She learned first-hand the myriad non-medical issues that plague cancer patients, and she began volunteering to help them. The monumental costs involved with treatment, along with the frequent inability of patients to perform regular tasks, can make a person feel helpless.
So, in 2013, Yoli and others created CARE – Cancer Aid Resource & Education, Inc. She heads the organization as a full-time volunteer.
If you’re too ill to go to the grocery store, who can go for you? CARE can. If your high medical bills mean you missed utility payments, who can cover the expense for a month or two so you avoid shut-off? CARE can. If you need gas money to get to an out-of-town doctor appointment, who can cover it with a gas card? CARE can.
These seemingly mundane expenses are the ones that can add up, causing someone to lose a home or increase stress and worsen their disease.
These are the cracks Yoli saw people falling through, and she didn’t want to see it happen. She did something about it. To date, seven years after its formation, CARE has helped more than 500 cancer victims, raised more than $650,000 and remains an all-volunteer organization.
And now, in one of those cruel ironies, or heartbreaking twists of fate, Yoli herself is dealing with endometrial cancer.
Visiting with her today, even under her COVID mask, you can sense the big smile of optimism and hope on Yoli’s face. Her short, white hair is an indicator of the successful chemo and radiation treatments she endured. Instead of worrying about being bald, though, Yoli says she’s filled with humbleness and gratitude.
Gratitude for her ongoing recovery, yes, but also for the ability to still do what she loves: help others.
“This whole process made me feel like I’m doing the right thing,” she said. “And I want to continue doing the right thing.”
Canceled by COVID, CARE’s signature fundraiser, La Gran Fiesta, has transitioned this year to a virtual run/walk/ride, which goes through Oct. 30. Go to www.carelascruces.org to learn how you can participate or make a donation.