Veronica Sanchez, age 34, of Merion, Pa. is usually everyone’s touchstone. She’s always been that kind of person and someone you can trust and rely on.
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico earlier this year, she and her husband opened their doors to family members who were affected by the storm. Her mom, dad and an aunt stayed with them, until they could return home to Puerto Rico. “It was a tough time with all of us suffering from one thing or another, but in the end it was wonderful for all of us to be together as a family,” she said.
With her recent cancer diagnosis, Veronica has realized she has to rely on others sometimes too.
Still, it’s a difficult learning process, because in addition to her cancer diagnosis, her son has special needs and her daughter recently started speech therapy. That means she’s on the hook for a lot more than taking care of herself alone.
“Between working as a nurse practitioner, teaching part time at Villanova, going to my doctor’s appointments and driving my kids to their therapies, it’s been a really difficult time,” she said. “My husband has just been amazing. He’s been there not only for me and the kids, but also for his mother, who is suffering from dementia, and his father, who is dealing with cardiac issues. Even with his amazing outlook and help, it’s a juggling act to get everything done every day.”
Looking back Veronica said she thought she probably had symptoms – an aching jaw — for more than a year, but even with her medical training, she didn’t connect the dots. Then while visiting family in Puerto Rico she was laid low with pneumonia. A “bronch wash” at a local doctor revealed cancer cells, so she quickly made an appointment at the University of Pennsylvania when she got back to Philadelphia.
When she got home, she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, which had taken hold in both lungs and several lymph nodes, as well. With her background as a trauma nurse, very little about her diagnosis fazed her, “but the aggressive staging threw me for a loop,” she said.
She is currently on a sequence of oral chemotherapy, and she has CAT scans every six to eight weeks, so the doctors can gauge what’s going on with her cancer. “So far, the chemo has been working well to shrink my tumors,” she said.
“I feel in my heart it’s really going to work to eradicate this disease, and that belief helps me remain positive.”
Veronica is laser focused on her survival, because she wants to be there for her kids. Most of all, if the cancer takes a turn for the worst, she wants to stay alive long enough for her 20-month-old daughter to be able remember her. “If I can just hold on a little longer, she will remember me,” she said. “That brings me hope. I also want to make sure my son is squared away. The need for him to make a good transition to school is what gets me up and out of bed every day, no matter how badly I might feel inside.”
She wants others to know that lung cancer has a lot of faces.
“Just because I’m still able to do all these things for my family right now, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” she said. “A lot of people have preconceived notions about what cancer is, but even though I get up and out to work and appointments every day, and even though my hair hasn’t fallen out doesn’t mean I’m not suffering on the inside. I still have cancer, even if you can’t see it on the outside.”
Learning to rely on others has given Veronica a new perspective and a wonderful support system filled with help and hope.