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Finding Support and Resources in Times of Need

The Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB Provides Support and Resources for Patricia During Her Cancer Journey

Lea la historia de Patricia en español

Patricia Espinoza was busy juggling two jobs and raising three children in early 2020 when she stepped out of the shower and felt a nodule, about the size of the tip of her thumb, on the back of her right thigh.

Patricia Espinoza finds Support at the Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB

The Covid-19 pandemic had just started, and many doctors weren’t regularly seeing patients in person. Patricia’s doctor told her by phone that it was probably just a fatty lump – nothing to worry about unless it grew.

About 2 ½ years later, in the fall of 2022, Patricia noticed the lump had indeed grown – by a lot. It was now the size of her fist. When her doctor saw her emailed photos, he referred Patricia to a surgery center to have the lump removed. 

Biopsy results confirmed her fear: It was myxoid liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer that starts in fat cells. Patricia was already too familiar with cancer. Her mother had died of breast cancer and several other relatives had had it.

“I kind of knew this was going to happen,” Patricia, 46, says through a Spanish interpreter.

After a second surgery in June 2023 to remove tissue that had surrounded the mass, she underwent 30 rounds of daily radiation. The treatments were in Dublin, Calif., and the 45-minute drive from her home in Oakley could become two hours each way with traffic congestion.

At first, Patricia’s husband, Hector Espinoza, took off a few days from his construction job to get her to appointments. Then Patricia drove herself, even as her right leg grew more painful as the treatments progressed, especially when she had to step on the gas and brake pedal.

That’s when she got connected with Irene Juarez, a Cancer Care Companion with the Lazarex Cancer Foundation.

A family member had introduced Patricia to Blanca Colin. Blanca is a Neighborhood Health Ambassador at the Village Community Resource Center – Brentwood, a nonprofit that serves children and families in east Contra Costa County.

The center also serves as one of Lazarex’s Cancer Wellness HUBs, which bring the foundation’s help directly to underserved communities. The HUBs create safe spaces for residents to talk about their concerns – and receive support and access to resources – throughout their cancer journey. The HUBs in the San Francisco East Bay and Los Angeles areas work out of community facilities, such as places of worship, YMCAs and health clinics. The Philadelphia HUB has its own building.

Blanca helped Patricia fill out a Lazarex HUB interest form, which was sent to Irene.

Patricia & Hector Espinoza

Irene connected Patricia with Imerman Angels, a Chicago nonprofit that provides free one-on-one emotional support for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. When driving to her radiation appointments became too difficult, Lazarex provided five free round-trip Lyft rides.

“It was a blessing,” Patricia says of the rides.

With her face framed by long, dark waves, Patricia becomes teary when she thinks about Irene’s supportive check-in calls. At the time, she had been struggling to continue working as much as possible during her treatments at two jobs – as a parent liaison at an elementary school and an assistant teacher for children with special needs at a preschool.

Though she had strong family support, she also wanted to protect her three children – a daughter, now 10, and two sons, now 16 and 17 – from absorbing her stress.

“You’re not alone,” Irene told her. “Anything you need, we’re here.”

Patricia says she felt like she could finally breathe again.

“I felt like ‘I can do this. I can get through this,’” Patricia says. “Knowing there was someone I could turn to if I needed help, I knew it was going to be OK.”

Doctors have told Patricia the cancer is gone, and she’s feeling well. Her advice to others living with cancer: “Accept the help.”

“There are people and organizations with very big hearts that are here to help you,” Patricia says. “They give you the strength you need to get through it.”

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