The Goitia Family

(L to R): Antonio, Emily, Carlos, Lizi, Tony

(L to R): Antonio, Emily, Carlos, Lizi, Tony

Our story is about faith and hope.  It started during a year of struggle and hardship.  Like it was for many families, the economic crisis of 2008-2009 was a hard time for us financially.  Business was hard and struggled to make ends meet.  I remember that we were just trying to survive and get by with enough to cover our electric and water bills.  Thankfully, my husband Tony and I were both healthy and our three children young and strong, so we regrettably moved health insurance coverage down the list of payments to be made.  Before we knew it, our coverage lapsed.  But we were sure that things would soon turn around and all would be well.

It was then that Tony started having horrible headaches.  Sometimes his headaches would last for days and even weeks.  I begged him to go the hospital but he wanted to wait until after the Christmas holidays because of some much needed business he was conducting.  Finally on December 27, 2009, after concluding the first in a series of very important business meetings he was planning for the end of the year, Tony told me that he couldn’t take the headaches any more and needed to get rid of them before the round of meetings.

My first thoughts were that he might be experiencing high blood pressure due to all the stress we were under.  But I would soon learn how wrong I was and that our lives were about to change forever.  As I’m sure you’ve already surmised Tony had a brain tumor!

That moment when I first heard the news seems like a surreal dream to me now.  I was in shock.  There are so many crazy thoughts that flood your mind in that instant that it is now hard for me to go back and sort through them in a way that would make sense here.  I do remember a nurse entering the exam room we were in and commenting, “Isn’t it strange how fast your life can change?”  I agreed with her and replied how much I wish that we had won the lotto instead.

My husband was immediately schedule to undergo surgery the following week.  His doctors told us that they were 80% sure that Tony had a highly aggressive and maligned form of cancer; but, as is often the case with brain tumors, they really wouldn’t be sure until the surgery could confirm their diagnosis.

Finally, the day for the surgery arrived.  On December 30, 2009, the father of my children and the love of my life underwent a 6-hour long surgery to attempt the removal of the tumor.  After a grueling wait, we finally got the great news that he had survived the surgery and the bad news confirming our worst fears.  Tony had Stage 4, Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM-4).  Thankfully, our most excellent surgeon was able to remove approximately 95% of the tumor.  Still, the prognosis they gave us was bleak.

They told us that most of these types of cases did not end well and that Tony likely had about six months, maybe a year left to live.  The only thing I could think of was that our youngest child was just 10 years old; the same age I was when I lost my dad.  I didn’t want my kids to lose their dad too.

You know, man can have many answers in life, but God always has the final word.  Tony has always been a fighter and a survivor, so we decided right then and there to fight this mess with all our vigor.  We also decided that we would celebrate all of our victories in this battle.  The next day was New Year’s Eve and we resolved that we would celebrate Tony coming through the surgery well.  We ordered food to the hospital room and our children, closest friends and family joined us in celebration.  Ultimately, Tony was too tired to celebrate for very long but we still made the best of it as a family.  We feel so blessed to have such loving and caring friends and family.

Soon after the surgery, we knew that the only way to beat this mess was to get the best treatment and care possible.  Some of Tony’s high school buddies started researching hospitals and clinical trials of all types and they made a list for us to look into more thoroughly once Tony was back home.

Soon, we found ourselves visiting hospitals all over God’s creation.  In the end, we decided to go the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. When we first arrived there, we felt like we were at home.  We had learned that they had a new immunotherapy clinical trail that looked very promising against GBM-4 tumors.  They told us that only 20% of newly diagnosed patients qualified for the study, but I knew in my heart that Tony would qualify.  I just knew he would.

After many days of anxiously awaiting the results of the many tests they ran on my husband, we finally got the call.  Tony qualified!  They wanted us back in North Carolina to begin his treatment immediately.  It was the first good news we had experienced since this whole mess started but there was just one problem.  How were we going to pay for it?  All we had was Florida Medicaid.  We didn’t have any insurance and the cost of this cutting-edge treatment was certainly going to be big.  Fortunately, the staff at Duke informed us that we could apply for financial assistance and come up with a payment plan.

Thankfully, our request for assistance was approved and Tony began his treatment.  The months have passed and now we are over three years down the road and Tony is still tumor-free and doing great.  It’s been a sometimes frightening and always amazing experience.

We feel so blessed and are so thankful for the many graces that God has bestowed on our family throughout this journey.  It has become our dream to make this same joy possible for everyone who is diagnosed with a brain tumor.  That is why our family has joined other families in this fight, and together we founded the Miami Brain Tumor Coalition – so that someday soon we can put an end to this mess.

~ Lizi Goitia