Maria Gruber was born July 25th, 1945. She bore two children, the youngest being Simona Fusco. Maria was a single mother and worked hard to make ends meet to provide for her children. Maria lived a very active lifestyle. Her passions included cooking, she was a history buff, enjoyed different cultures, and spending time with her daughter and granddaughter.
In her forties Maria went in to see her doctor for pain in her abdomen. The good news is that it turned out to be cysts that were causing her pain. The bad news in discovering the cysts were that she also had cervical cancer. At the time her daughter was a young teen, without a father or any family support system. You can imagine the fear of the unknown and helplessness she experienced.
Simona had nobody to turn to and now her sick mother to take care of. She visited all the top hospitals in the Los Angeles area and requested to speak to the top resident oncologists. At 15, Simona worked hard to support her mother and get her the best treatments available. Her pain and fear gave her the drive she needed to fight for her mother’s life. Simona interviewed various hospitals and doctors until she found someone she felt comfortable with. He was personable, kind and seemed to actually care about his patients. He seemed to have great knowledge about the disease and felt confident he could help Maria. After a series of chemotherapy and radiation, Maria looked to have defeated cancer.
She was told that she had received the maximum dosage of radiation to last a lifetime. She was urged to think twice about x-rays and only consider them in emergencies. Throughout the following years Maria continuously went for checkups. Her results over 20 years suggested she was cancer free. Until one morning, Maria awoke once again with pain in her abdomen. Fearing the worst, Maria went to see a doctor who performed a colonoscopy. Her diagnosis was Stage 3 colorectal cancer.
Once again, both Simona and Maria found themselves on the hunt for a doctor to save her life. Maria was told that she needed surgery to remove her cancer. She was assured that with surgery her cancer could be removed and she could go back to living a cancer free life. However, during surgery, doctors discovered her cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and surrounding tissues. She was Stage 4. She was given 6 months to live.
One of the toughest parts was waking up after her surgery to her daughter and granddaughter in tears uttering those dreaded words: “Mom, you have terminal cancer.” It was a life sentence nobody ever wants to wake up to. Not wanting to accept defeat against this evil disease, Maria and her daughter desperately tried non-conventional and conventional therapies including juicing, vitamin therapy, other doctors, more radiation, which she was told to avoid after her first cancer, and additional chemotherapy. Nothing helped this time around. Chemotherapy and radiation rendered her weak, unable to talk, walk or eat. At 5'7" she was reduced to a mere 80 pounds of skin and bones. On August 26th, 2014, Maria called Simona to her hospital bed and whispered under her weak breath perhaps the second worst news no loved one wants to hear their parent say: "I can’t take this pain anymore. I am ready to move on." Cancer had finally won its battle over Maria’s life. On August 29th, 2014, at 8PM, Maria went to sleep and never woke up. Simona was by her bedside holding her hand as she took her last breath. Maria was given a lethal dose of morphine by her hospice care.
Still not wanting to accept defeat, Simona continued on to obtain an autopsy report which took several months. The doctor performing the autopsy reported that Maria must have been in excruciating pain and he could not differentiate her organs from others. Her insides were just one big mass. She was better off leaving this realm and finally being pain free.
Simona did not know that she would never have another opportunity to speak to her mother again. She didn’t think that her mother would not be able to give her last words and in effect some form of closure. Simona was not prepared for the grief that was to follow. On top of having to deal with life insurance and health insurance companies, hospital bills, pestering debt collectors for bills not covered under Maria’s health insurance, funeral arrangements etc. She did not have any support system in place.
Maria’s daughter Simona founded this organization to honor Maria’s life, her heroic fight with cancer not just once but twice in her life, but more importantly to support other loved ones like Simona through the process of being a caretaker of someone diagnosed with terminal cancer.