When Lisbia Avila was diagnosed with colon cancer, an army of supporters banded together in love to fight alongside this cherished wife, mother, sister and honorary “mama” to adoring children she has helped raise in her at-home daycare.
Cancer was certainly an unexpected hurdle for this 41-year-old mom. But even a serious disease couldn’t stop the blessings. If anything, cancer rallied Lisbia’s loved ones around her even more tightly than ever before.
“I am not usually very easy to help or a needy person. But they didn’t ask me. They were coming and were going to help me,” she said, pausing as she remembered back five years ago, to those early days of her diagnosis. “They took over my kitchen. They cleaned my house.”
Letting go even just a little, even when faced with a serious illness, certainly didn’t come easily at first for Lisbia. But she soon realized that her devotion to all her loved ones really did include taking care of herself, too.
“I did as much as I could, but it was hard,” Lisbia said. “It was so nice to have that support. To tell you the truth, that support made me stronger. I am so blessed. It was amazing, but that is the kind of family we are,” she said. “We are there for each other. This time, it was my turn.”
She received eight cycles of chemotherapy over six months at Yuma Regional Medical Center Cancer Center.
Stepping in to join Lisbia in her fight against cancer were her husband, son, daughter, 80-year-old mother, four sisters and nieces. Her husband and sister would help with errands. Another sister would drive with her to chemotherapy treatments, which took up most of the morning. Her mother and another sister would stay with “my babies,” as Lisbia calls her daycare children.
Unlike her family, Lisbia found great comfort in thinking about her father, who died of cancer just two years before her diagnosis. While for others those fresh memories led to fear, Lisbia drew strength from memories of her father, who she says visited her frequently in her dreams. He visited Lisbia to reassure her, to comfort her — and to warn her.
A long period of suffering from stomach pains led to numerous medical tests. Although completely unrelated to her cancer, it was that issue that inspired medical intervention, along with Lisbia’s father stepping in with words of warning.
“I woke up that next morning, after he visited me in my dream and told my husband, ‘I am going to get a colonoscopy,’” she recalled. “I told him they were going to find something — and they did.”
Within two weeks of the official diagnosis, Lisbia went to YRMC to have the cancer surgically removed, a procedure that was successful.
“They were so good to me. Just being in the hospital gave me a huge confidence,” she said. “My surgeon, Dr. Margaret Kunes, is amazing. I love her. She gave me the confidence I needed. She said I could have all the care I needed right here in Yuma.”
When the doctors diagnosed the cancer, her husband’s initial thoughts were to seek treatment in a big city. Lisbia, however, knew that she wanted to receive her treatments right here in Yuma, close to home and close to her army of supporters.
“He wanted to put me in a plane and take me wherever. When the doctors at Yuma Regional Medical Center said they could treat me in Yuma, I knew ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ This is where I live. My family lives here,” she said, adding with confidence: “I knew I could get exactly the care I need, right here at home.”
With several major reasons in mind, she did not want to leave town for cancer treatment. She hated the idea of traveling by car for several hours when not feeling well after chemotherapy. She also knew that leaving Yuma for cancer care would mean losing a day with her family.
She found great relief in the fact that Yuma Regional Medical Center Cancer Center is only a three-minute drive from her home.
“It’s an amazing facility, full of wonderful people. You don’t need to go anywhere else. You walk in there and you feel like you are in a big city,” Lisbia said. “It’s so bright and open. Everyone there is very friendly and caring. The doctors, nurses and the entire staff all help you and make you feel so welcomed.”
Every night before a major appointment, Lisbia would prepare as much as she could and leave her sister and mother with a list. She was grateful that she could continue to watch her daycare babies during her treatment because of her sister and mother’s help. Many times, Lisbia’s daughter would also assist her mother with the children after she finished school for the day.
“She would get them up from naps, change diapers, prepare the snacks. My daughter and son grew up with the kids, so we really are all one big family,” Lisbia said with great pride. “If I was feeling weak, tired or sick, I knew I only had to make it through nap time. She would be there to help.”
"My son was still young and had to grow up overnight. He really stepped up to the plate and helped any way he could. I suddenly realized that my children were taking care of me instead of me taking care of them. I am very proud of them. They are my angels."
Being such a strong caretaker of her family, learning to accept help from her army of supporters wasn’t easy for Lisbia at first. However, she stressed that accepting help when faced with cancer really is the best way to fight the disease — together with your loved ones.
“If you need it, ask for the help. Take the help,” she said, smiling broadly. “It’s not going to hurt you. It’s not going to make you weak.”
Today, several years after her cancer journey, she adds a second piece of advice for cancer patients in Yuma.
“Go to the cancer center, get the information, meet the people and make your decision. You will like what you see, who you meet there.”
"Dr. Gregory Yang is an amazing doctor. He made a difference throughout my cancer journey. He would always tell me that I am an 'easy breeze' every time I came to see him. He genuinely cared about me and my well-being. I am very grateful for him and I appreciate his kindness."
For people battling cancer, Lisbia never fails to offer hope, help and her loving prayers.
“For all the cancer patients in Yuma receiving treatment, I pray for them every night,” Lisbia said, her face once again beaming an incredible smile. “For all the staff at the cancer center, I pray for them every night — to this day, I do that. They deserve all the prayers they can get, for the help that they are giving people in our community each and every day. I truly do love them.”