SPRINGFIELD-- While receiving chemotherapy in an intensive care unit, there are only so many things most people can be positive about. Most people, however, are simply not like Eleuteria Flores Gonzalez, her daughter Juana Olivera, and registered nurse Maureen Nomakeo.
Eleuteria is battling stage 4b cervical cancer, a terminal illness that doctors are using chemotherapy to combat at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, in hopes they can elongate her life expectancy.
“But we are not focusing on that, we are just living life,” Juana said.
And after one special visit to Baystate this past fall, the mother-daughter duo are now working with Eleuteria’s nurse, Maureen, to help countless other cancer patients. Eleuteria had to be stabilized and monitored in the Intensive Care Unit while receiving chemotherapy, and Maureen was assigned to the task.
“We got here at 7am that day. We didn’t get up until the ICU until 4pm. Maureen was with us until about one in the morning or two, it was a very long shift and throughout the whole shift she had a big smile, positive attitude, very compassionate,” Juana said. “We love Maureen, what more could we say about her?!”
Through all those hours, and countless other visits, the three women needed something to help pass the time. Eleuteria is naturally gifted at crocheting, and Maureen likes to knit. Perhaps you can see where this tale is going.
“Maureen taught me how to knit a scarf with the knitting needles,” Juana said.
When Eleuteria and Juana were at Baystate over a series of several weeks, Maureen began taking time on her lunch break to help Juana improve her knitting skills. A second nurse, Diana Kamezyck, also got involved. Together, this team of four began pumping out beautiful pieces of work.
“So through conversations they had mentioned how hats were needed for the oncology floor,” Juana said. “I made no commitments at that time because I said ‘wow that’s a lot of hats’ but we thought about it afterwards and I mentioned it to mom and she was like ‘yeah we can do it.’”
Nevermind the stage four cancer, forget the chemotherapy. Eleuteria had a new focus- get warm hats to those who need them at Baystate.
“So ‘yeah we can do it’ turned into 80 hats but I needed help so I started the Facebook page and I had families and friends donate yarn, someone donated a gift card to buy yarn and supplies,” Juana said. “She was very adamant that we make pediatric ones, because we saw pediatric patients during treatment.”
That’s when “Halos of Love” was born, and continues to thrive into the new year.
“It’s something that helps us not to think about the illness,” Eleuteria said. “It serves as therapy while you are undergoing all these treatments for cancer. A lot of people suffer from this illness. Sometimes you have to leave the illness on the side and focus on life, and now we are staying positive.”
Juana is fiercely loyal to her mom, and doesn’t let an appointment slip by without sitting by her side. Together, they are both satisfied knowing that their precious and limited time together is helping to warm the heads and comfort the hearts of other cancer patients across the hospital.
“It just serves as a little token of love from us, it’s our way of showing our experience and just kind of hoping that someone will pay it forward and learn from this as well,” Juana said.