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George Aquino Finds Cancer Support & Encouragement at the Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUB

George, 75, says he needed support but was skeptical anyone could help. His diagnosis – prostate cancer that had spread to his bones –  “felt like the end of the world.” 

Read the Tagalog version of George’s story.

George Aquino was a few weeks into a devastating cancer diagnosis in April 2023 when he and a friend came across Irene Juarez at the Monument Crisis Center, a Concord, Calif. nonprofit resource center for lower-income families.

George Aquino in his home.

Seeing Irene’s table sign for the Lazarex Cancer Foundation, George’s friend encouraged him to talk to her.

George, 75, says he needed support but was skeptical anyone could help. His diagnosis – prostate cancer that had spread to his bones –  “felt like the end of the world.” 

He lived alone and, beyond telling a few friends, had been trying to handle the illness mostly on his own. Even so, he’d had trouble finding a psychotherapist to help with the emotional toll and wondered if the treatment plan his doctors had devised was the best possible.

George’s friend urged him again: “Talk to them!”

George did. And he still remembers Irene’s response: “We can help you.”

The Monument Crisis Center is one of three Lazarex Cancer Wellness HUBs that bring the foundation’s resources directly to cancer patients and caregivers in underserved communities. The HUBs – the other two are in Philadelphia and Los Angeles – provide a safe space where Cancer Care Companions and Neighborhood Health Ambassadors answer questions, help people overcome cultural barriers, and connect them to resources to help on their cancer journey, including finding medical care, cancer screenings, cancer care, clinical trials and survivor resources. 

Through the East Bay HUB, Lazarex led George to Massachusetts-based BostonGene for genomic testing at no cost. They also connected him with Imerman Angels, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides support to cancer patients through free one-on-one mentoring. 

Lazarex also referred him to thesecondopinion, a San Francisco nonprofit of volunteer medical specialists who reviewed his health records, also at no cost. They reassured him his treatment plan was “excellent,” giving him confidence in his medical team.

Irene still calls weekly to check in.

“There’s constant follow-up,” George says.

George laughs and smiles easily, even as he fights cancer a second time. His first bout came in 2009, when had thyroid cancer at age 60.

When he learned the necessary surgery would cost $45,000, he headed home to his native Philippines for less expensive care. After surgery in the Philippines followed by radiation at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, his cancer went into remission. But he had to sell the residential facility he operated for developmentally disabled adults. 

After that, he says, he volunteered, including as a board member for the Contra Costa Regional Health Foundation and as a public notary at the Concord Senior Center.

Then came the day in March 2023, when he noticed blood in his urine. Three days later, in the emergency room at John Muir Medical Center, he passed out. Further testing revealed the new cancer.

George says his prostate cancer is in remission, and he takes medication every three months to try to keep the bone cancer in check. He is back to driving, feeling independent and playing a weekly Bingo game at the Concord Senior Center. A caregiver who stops by daily recently remarked that the color has returned to his face. 

He attributes his new vibrancy to his ability to laugh at, and even joke about, his condition, as well as his strong faith. He often reminds himself, “El hombre propone y Dios dispone,” which translates to “Man proposes and God disposes.” 

He says the help he has received from Lazarex has been a “privilege.”

“You hear ‘Stage 4’ and you think, you know, that’s the end of life, but God is good,” George says. “…Lazarex gave me the encouragement to go on.”

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