In the Spotlight: Lilliana Aponte Yap
I met my husband 23 years ago, and when I saw him my first thought was, “if he only looked at me, I would be the happiest girl,” – and he did!
And I was the happiest girl …
We supported each other through grad school, moved to different states, and he encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. We worked very hard for many years. He believed in me more than I believed in myself, and he was my rock; my knight in shining armor.
We had promising careers and after years of hoping and praying, and with the help of wonderful doctors, we had our beautiful miracle baby, Catalina. A month after celebrating Catalina’s first year, Claudio said to me, “Lilly I have a hole in my mouth.” From that moment on, our lives changed forever.
He was diagnosed with a rare form of Adenocarcinoma in the Palate (roof of the mouth). His treatment included 4 surgeries and 33 radiation treatments. He had grafts to reconstruct his palate, which included extensive surgeries to both arms and neck. The recovery was slow and difficult, but after about eight months he was active and back on his feet.
We tried to rebuild our lives, but the trauma of the experience and the fear of a relapse or metastases followed both of us.
In 2011, we received devastating news: his cancer had metastasized to his lungs. It had rapidly and extensively spread to both lungs, therefore surgery was not an option nor was radiation, and there was no specific chemo treatment approved for his kind of cancer.
He then joined a clinical trial of an immunotherapy medication, which he had to stop after one year due to intolerable side effects. A year later he failed a second clinical trial. In the meantime we were blessed with our second miracle baby, Liam Gabriel. His last few months were extremely difficult, with blind hope and stern denial, trying to fight back and praying for a miracle.
In March 2016, he was very weak, thin, and mostly in bed when he developed a sore throat. He had the flu. He passed away on March 28 of 2016.
My daughter, Catalina and I come to Gilda’s Club every week, to give support to others in similar situations as well as feel the support of wonderful Gilda’s employees, fellow members and volunteers. They fill our lives with love, support and understanding.
Because of Gilda’s, I don’t feel alone. I can muster the strength to move on as best I can, with faith. My daughter Catalina is full of joy because she has Noogieland at Gilda’s Club on Thursdays, where she has been able to make friends who together will be able to survive the loss of a parent.
She had the best time in the summer program; her birthday at Gilda’s was the highlight of her day. Every year we look forward to Noogiefest, the best Halloween Party ever! Thank you very much for the healing you bring to our little family.