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Young mother's determination has lasting impact on family

By JR Ortega
Nov. 9, 2013 at 5:09 a.m.
Updated Nov. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.

Bertha Arvizu, 41, of Inez, is the focus of October's cancer essay contest winner. Her daughter, Emma Ramirez, 25, wrote the essay, describing for readers what it was like being a child and learning her mother had Stage 3 breast cancer.

To read more stories from Crossroads residents affected by cancer, click here.


I was 12 years old when I first saw my mother cry. She had just gotten off work and was sitting in the car, sobbing in the rain.

She had always been a strong woman, never showing fear. When I asked her what she was doing outside, she replied, "Emma, I have breast cancer." My mother was 27.

She had five children at a young age and was determined to make sure her children's dreams came true. She grew up on the poor side of town and had a hard life. She had her first child at the age of 14 (me) and four more before the age of 27.

She had dreamed of a family who would eat meals together at the dinner table, something she didn't do when she was growing up.

She married and moved into a "fixer upper" mobile home and told us that money was going to be tight, but, together, we were going to own a home. She accomplished that in five years.

When I found her that day in the rain, all I could think about was when she was going to die. Cancer meant death at that 12 years. My mother underwent radiation and chemo, losing her long hair as well as her husband. I remember when she was at her lowest, not being able to walk, eat, in pain, divorced and left with five children.

The second time I saw my mother cry was when we talked about death. What would become of us? Who would care for us when she passes? I know this sounds crazy, but we all told our mom that we would go to heaven with her. After many more treatments and many more painful nights, my mother continued to fight for us.

I am now25 (she wouldn't like it if I gave you her age), and my mother is still with us. She is my hero, and even through it all, she managed to get us out ahead and give us opportunities that she never had. We love you, mom.

The essay Emma Ramirez wrote several weeks ago may be of a day more than 10 years ago, but for her, it feels like it just happened.

Ramirez, 25, of Inez, won the Advocate's essay contest asking readers to write about an inspiring true-life cancer story they experienced. She won a $100 gift certificate to Regal Jewelers.

She opens her essay with the moment she found out her mother, Bertha Arvizu, 41, had stage 3 breast cancer.

Ramirez was 12, and the two were in the car, the rain pouring down outside and the tears pouring down her mother's cheeks.

"Emma, I have breast cancer," Ramirez wrote in the essay of what she heard her mother say.

Just thinking about that moment again brings back the pain, fear and memories, Ramirez said Friday.

"I had never seen her cry at all," she said. "I was scared; my mom was supposed to be strong."

The next several years, her mother spent time rebuilding her life, Ramirez said. Not only did she undergo a year and a half of chemotherapy and radiation, but also in the process, she lost touch with her femininity for a while - from the loss of her hair and trying to be a mother to five children to a divorce.

But she pulled through.

The cancer was gone, and she was in remission, and slowly life returned to normal, Arvizu said.

"It was hard, but it paid off," said Arvizu, who only learned of the essay Friday after hearing her daughter won.

The essay brought her to tears.

"I can't believe she did that," she said under her breath about what her daughter did for her.

Ramirez is Arvizu's oldest, and at 12, she had to grow up fast, helping take care of her four younger siblings. At the time, Arvizu was 27.

"I remember her having to make sure the kids were fed and ready for school, and she still kept her grades up," her mother said in amazement.

Today, Arvizu is in remission, though she had a cancer scare about five years ago.

The experience, though scary, was one she feels shaped all her children, like Ramirez, who became a registered nurse and is now raising her own three children.

Ramirez agreed with her mother, saying cancer helped teach her how to have strength.

"It just made me stronger," she said. "I know if anything were to happen to me in my lifetime that I can be just as strong because my mom was that strong."



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