What It Means To Be Blessed
Cancer survivor Sylvia Valdez is grateful to John Maurice, M.D. for his guidance and care
Seventy-five-year-old San Pedro native Sylvia Valdez has fond memories of an idyllic childhood. Her half-Greek, half-Mexican mother embraced the Mediterranean diet. “I was 22 years old before I knew what fried chicken was,” she laughs. “They opened the first McDonald’s in town when I was 16. I went immediately to get those french fries.”
Her father, who worked as a longshoreman, loved baseball. He formed three local baseball teams to give vulnerable neighborhood kids a healthy pastime. He was so beloved for his kindness that, 60 years after his death, the city named Dillon Field, located at 22nd Street Park, in his honor.
Her devout parents raised them in the Catholic faith. “My father used the Ten Commandments to teach me what not to do, and my mother taught me what to do with the eight beatitudes,” she smiles.
Journey through cancer
Sylvia retired after her 30-year career at AT&T and immediately began a life of volunteerism. It was during one of her acts of service five years ago that Sylvia’s cancer journey started. She volunteered four days a week to drive her friend Sister Bernadette of the Religious Sisters of Charity for treatment at Providence St. Joseph Hospital, where she would sit with her during the four-hour transfusions.
One day, a strong feeling came over Sylvia. “I looked at Sister Bernadette and said, ‘I belong here, but I can’t figure out why,’” she remembers. Sister Bernadette insisted that Sylvia leave and go enjoy the hospital health fair that was going on that day to pass the time before her transfusion was over. There, she met and chatted with thoracic surgeon Dr. John Maurice “I told him, ‘I think I have lung cancer, and he ordered a CT scan for me knowing I was a longtime smoker.”
In January 2019, Sylvia sat with Dr. Maurice to discuss her stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis. “He must have spent two hours with me after my exam,” she marvels. “He empowered me with the information I needed to get through this.” Dr. Maurice also helped Sylvia improve her overall health to prepare her body for surgery.
She remembers being impressed by the large array of tools and equipment in the operating room as the team prepared her for surgery. The video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery lobectomy, paid for with donor support, was instrumental in Sylvia’s successful outcome. This type of minimally invasive procedure is performed through small incisions, measuring only a few centimeters, along the side of the chest — as opposed to open-chest surgery.
Today, Sylvia is a grateful cancer survivor who credits Dr. Maurice and his team of caregivers for her restored health, including nurse navigator Kelly Frontino, RN, wellness coach Janni Buaiz, MS, CWS, CHC, and senior physical therapist Veronica Keating. Since her successful treatment, Sylvia has hosted an annual Christmas dinner party for her Providence St. Joseph caregiver crew and fellow cancer survivors. “This is my way of saying thank you,” she says.
Sylvia’s experience has given her a new perspective. “You hear about the mind, body, spirit connection, but I never really understood that until working with Dr. Maurice,” she says. “His guidance and care helped me put it all together. Dr. Maurice prepared me to accept the reality of my situation with grace. Gratitude has a new meaning in my heart. I now know what it means to be blessed.”
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