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Faces of Blue: Carmela Rodriguez

Carmela Rodriguez is a mother of six children, and her family is the most important thing in her life. Her desire to fight for her children and be with them as long as possible is at the heart of her story. 

Carmela was first misdiagnosed with a blood condition four years ago. She was weak, tired, dizzy, easily bruising, fluctuating in her weight, and feeling cold all the time. Her menstrual period would last a long time with heavy bleeding. She also noticed occasional blood in her stools. Her doctors told her that she had a “blood and iron condition” where her body was not producing enough red blood cells or retaining iron. 

She had been working 40-60 hours a week as a warehouse and logistics manager. Carmela loved her job, but was ordered by her doctors to quit working because of her condition. She was the primary breadwinner for her family of eight, but now she was out of work and fearing for her life over a mysterious disease. She was eventually put on a program of occasional steroid and blood transfusions to keep her iron levels up and returned to work. 

2020 was a hard year for everyone, and Carmela’s family especially could not seem to catch a break. She had her first gynecological surgery to try and stop her heavy bleeding, but the surgery resulted in infection. Carmela’s mother, who had been in remission from breast cancer, was diagnosed with cancer in her kidney that required major surgery. Carmela was diagnosed with COVID, and one of Carmela’s sons was diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation, and finally Carmela was also diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in Feb. 2021.

Throughout this time she was out of work due to the pandemic, but still holding everything together for her family. She was sick, exhausted, and her symptoms weren’t improving. In October 2020, she had a hysterectomy and was finally scheduled for a colonoscopy and an upper GI endoscopy in November. Carmela was ready in her hospital gown, hooked up to an IV, when the doctor came in and told her they would not perform the colonoscopy because the date was too close to her hysterectomy. 

In January 2021, Carmela’s mother was dying from the kidney cancer that had now spread to her lungs. Her mother initially chose not to tell the family the cancer had retuned, but eventually together they decided not to treat it; her mother died in Carmela’s home, just three weeks after entering hospice. 

Immediately following her mother’s death, Carmela began experiencing excruciating stomach pain. She initially thought that the symptoms were caused by intense grief, but eventually the pain sent her to the ER. They told her it was a stomach virus and sent her home. She went back to the ER a second time with extreme pain, insistent that her symptoms were caused by something more than a virus. They found a colon obstruction, and Carmela underwent surgery to remove a tumor and part of her colon. 

On the day she was to be released from the hospital – and also her mother’s birthday – the surgeon returned with biopsy results and delivered the dreaded news – Carmela had stage III colon cancer. He told her that all of the symptoms of her “mysterious blood disease” were actually from the cancer. The excessive bleeding, the fatigue and dizziness, the stomach cramps, all because the tumor in her colon had been growing, wreaking havoc on the rest of her body. 

It has now been just over a year since Carmela’s initial cancer diagnosis. Her doctors have given her a life expectancy between three and five years. She wonders every day, “If they had caught it earlier, how much longer would I have?” 

Her focus now is spending time with her husband and her kids, as well as her sister and extended family. It’s important to her to make it to as many swim meets, wrestling matches, football and basketball games as possible. They love going to the beach as a family, taking their dogs for walks, having movie nights, and going over to their grandma and grandpas’ house. It doesn’t have to be extravagant; the focus is on spending quality time together and making memories. Last September, Carmela’s kids’ school organized a parade of hope outside of their house to show community support for her family.

This winter she recovered from her third bout with COVID, and also underwent a lumpectomy in February that showed signed of precancerous cells. She is also undergoing testing for seizures which have been affecting her daily life.

With so many health struggles, there are also bright spots with her family. Carmela adores her husband, whom she met online seven years ago. She had been married before and said she wasn’t looking for love again but that he “opened a new door” in her heart. His patience is something that Carmela most appreciates about him. She says her diagnosis can make her stubborn, and he is always there to meet her where she’s at. Some days she is so desperate for a “normal” life that she pushes herself too hard doing housework or taking care of their kids. When she falls or can’t finish a task, he is there to pick her up. He is her rock. 

Carmela says, “This new life is not one that is easy to accept,” especially for someone like herself who is used to doing things for herself. She used to work full time and now she gets tired just making the bed. She says that living life with her cancer can feel like taking one step forward and then three miles backwards.

Her best advice to others living with cancer is to take things day by day and keep those who are true the closest. 

Editor’s Note: Story was updated on April 18, 2022, with some clarifying details and additional photos.

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Clara says:

    God is a miracle working God he sees and
    Knows all things keep the faith God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

  • Moss Daphne says:

    Never give up hope God is able to do anything but fail.
    I’m a living witness to that.
    He never make a mistake with anything and knows the plan he has for your life.
    Continue to give praise and trust him completely.

  • Stephanie Woolf Estrada says:

    Sending prayers. My 36 year old sister in law went to ER for pain. She too had been there more than once. Her tumor is so large they can’t get scope around it. The biopsy showed stage 3. She’s done radiation daily and Chemo infusions 2 times a week and wears a pack that’s time released. Just finished radiation starting booster big gun chemo. Surgery was supposed to be in November but has been moved to January. It’s spread to lymph nodes but not sure if it’s a b or c stage The tumor is very very large. God gives miracles daily 💙💙💙 Stay Strong!! I know you are from our GAC days!!

  • Deresha says:

    May the God we serve heal your body in the name of Jesus he already took all the pain an diseases for us so by his stripes you are heal 🙏

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