In the blink of an eye, Mari Sampedro- Iglesias’ life changed. Her husband Jose was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo surgery, and then grueling treatments to overcome the disease.
Sampedro-Iglesia, an associate administrative judge in the Juvenile Division, wrote a book called The Heroes Among Us about her experiences in hopes that the book might help someone else who is dealing with a family member with cancer.
“My husband got very ill and we received an immense amount of support,” she says. “I always liked to write and it was very therapeutic for me to write about what he was going through. I decided that if I wrote a book and shared our experience and how our family dealt with it and to show people that you do eventually get through it.”
The ordeal began with the discovery of a little pimple.
“As silly as it sounds, that’s what it was,” she says. “He noticed a pimple on his neck and it did not go away. He showed it to his doctor and the doctor agreed that it looked like a bug bite, but it if go away in 10 days he should see a specialist.”
The pimple did not disappear or change, so they went to see the specialist, who gave him antibiotics because one of the tonsils felt hard. But that didn’t take care of the problem.
Eventually he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in his tonsil and tongue. “It’s highly curable, it’s just that the treatment is very grueling because it’s in an area that is in use all the time,” she says. “You need to eat and you need to swallow. He received surgery, radiation and chemotherapy; the doctors were extremely aggressive.”
Her husband lost 85 pounds while undergoing treatment and he was not a heavy man to begin with. Luckily, his prognosis is very good.
The cancer diagnosis was surprising since Iglesia did not smoke or drink heavily, which are typical risk factors for this type of cancer. Doctors said the cancer was caused by a virus he carried for 30 years.
Sampedro-Iglesia hopes the book will help others find the positive in tough situations.
“Obviously I would rather not have had to go through with it, but we found that our faith grew and we received a lot of strength from everyone who reached out to us,” she says.
Sampedro-Iglesia says while he was going through treatment, her husband wanted and needed a cheerleader virtually all the time.
“That’s what he deserved,” she says. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. The radiation dries your mouth, you can’t eat, you can’t speak. You get sores in your mouth. It was awful, awful, awful.”
She wrote the book while he was undergoing treatment and it took about a year to get it published. Part of the delay was deciding whether she wanted to put the personal story out there.
“I have two kids. We were all very open about it all along, but I didn’t know whether I wanted to expose our lives,” she says.
Reaction has been positive. “People have stated that they feel inspired by it,” she says.
Proceeds from the book will be donated to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Head and Neck Department.
The Heroes Among Us is available in soft cover and as an ebook. For more information, go to <www.theheroesamongus. com>.