Victoria mom keeps family strong while fighting breast cancer

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:05 a.m.
Updated Oct. 6, 2012 at 5:06 a.m.

Faith has given Bertha Medinas the necessary strength to endure the hardships in life that she would soon face. Surviving cancer and a broken marriage, Medinas struggled to keep her family together, but would eventually buy her own home and relocate out of Victoria to a more tranquil environment.

Faith has given Bertha Medinas the necessary strength to endure the hardships in life that she would soon face. Surviving cancer and a broken marriage, Medinas struggled to keep her family together, but would eventually buy her own home and relocate out of Victoria to a more tranquil environment.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

She sat in the car, tears rolling down her face, while the rain beat down on the roof.

Cancer. It was November 2000, she was 27 years old and she had breast cancer. Inside, five children waited for her, the oldest 11 and the youngest barely more than a baby. She needed to go to them, but when she left the car she'd have to stop crying.

Her eldest daughter, Emma, ran through the rain and climbed into the gray Oldsmobile. In her 11 years, she'd never seen her mother cry before.

That had been a point of pride with Bertha Medinas. From the moment she held Emma, her first child, in her arms, Medinas had promised herself she would take care of her children.

Medinas grew up in the Victoria projects. She got pregnant at 14, and she found herself on the street with nowhere to go and a baby on the way.

"You are 15. You have a baby. You need to grow up," she told herself.

She'd had nothing then, 15 years old with an eighth-grade education and no job, but she was determined to find a different life for her children. She talked her way into a job bussing tables at Siesta Mexican Restaurant, and then she was a waitress, a convenience store clerk, whatever job she could get to bring home money and feed her children.

She found a house in the country, just outside of Inez. It wasn't anything fancy, a red brick structure sitting on a small tract of land toward the end of a winding country road. Just miles from her childhood home in Victoria, it was another world for Medinas and her children. She bought the house, bit by bit, from the owner.

She worked long hours getting together the money to live on, but every night they sat down around a dinner table, like families did on television.

Then the pain started.

Medinas didn't have health insurance, so it took a lot to get her to the doctor, but when she developed pain under her arm, she found herself in a doctor's office. They told her it was nothing.

She told them she couldn't lift her arm, that something was hurting. The doctors dismissed her, but when the pain went away she went to another doctor to see if he would listen. This time, he did.

It was just before Thanksgiving, and she was in the kitchen cooking dinner when the phone rang.

"We need to talk," the doctor told her. "Can you come in next week?"

"It's Friday. I can't wait until next week. You need to tell me now," she said, heart thumping.

He told her. Stage three breast cancer.

"What am I going to do? I'm going to die and my kids - what's going to happen to my kids?" The thought hammered through her head.

Next week, the tests confirmed it.

When Emma ran out of the house and hopped into the car, it was a moment she would never forget - the first time she saw her mother cry. Trying not to scare her daughter, she told her about the cancer.

Even then, Medinas didn't like letting her daughter know this. The children believed that their black-haired mother was Wonder Woman and she wanted it to stay that way. It soon became clear, she didn't have a choice.

They started chemotherapy and, by the second treatment, she began losing her long black hair. Seeing a pile of it on the pillow when she woke up one night, she went to the stylist the next day and said to cut it off.

Staring at their mother, her hair cropped short as a boy's, the truth sank in for all of them.

Please, give me time, Medinas prayed. Let me live long enough for Emma to grow up and not leave them alone, she asked God.

First her hair went, then they cut out pieces of her breasts. On the days after chemo, it felt like her bones would snap just from walking. Emma would take over on those days, helping the others get ready for school, leaving a plate of toast by her mother's bed.

Like her mother, Emma never let anyone see her cry, hiding in her room or waiting until late at night to let the tears flow.

They were strong for each other.

"There were days we all wanted to give up and stop fighting and each one of us would help the others and say, 'You can do this,'" Emma said.

It went on like this for four years. In late 2004, the doctor told her that she was in the clear, that her white blood cell count was good and she could schedule reconstructive surgery whenever she was ready.

It was over.

Medinas is 40 years old now and Emma has become a nurse. Medinas' children are a tight-knit clan who are there to support each other no matter what.

Medinas is now an office assistant for Fesco and has health insurance. Her children continue to get their education.

Medinas had to let them see her cry, but by clinging together, they had learned something that they still carry with them about life.

"The little things didn't really get to us, because we were dealing with really big things" Emma said, remembering.

Her mother agreed.

"We'd made it this far. We can do anything," Medinas said.

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