Cancer patients’ families gather to say goodbye, bury the dead

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MIAMI — Nearly 30 years ago, the families of patients and nurses in cancer treatment at the Covert-19 Cancer Treatment Center gathered together to say goodbye.

More than 700 people were slated to attend the funeral here of two Covert Cancer patients who died while undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.

The deaths left 22 families bereft. Only nine of those families could be at the ceremony.

Monday’s funeral for Victor “Gary” Chevez, 46, and Margarita Rosales Garcia, 34, was emotional. Rosales Garcia’s 20-year-old daughter walked in front of her mother’s flag-draped coffin.

“She was my best friend,” Maria Sanchez said. “When I leave here, I’m going to drive around and cry. That’s all I can do.”

Michelle Dominguez-Colwill, director of the graduate division of the Cancer Center, said the homegoing was not about mourning, but about celebrating life.

“The sentiment was to remember those loved ones and the love they showed us here,” Dominguez-Colwill said. “This is about family.

“Cancer gave us three precious people who loved and cared for us,” she said. “It just brought the entire family together.”

Cuba Vazquez, 56, daughter of Colombian residents Jose Vazquez and Titillada Vazquez, was shocked at the sight of her dying father.

“I did not know that he was so ill,” she said. “He didn’t just lay down and die, but was very animated.”

Cimarron A. Zamarripa, the sister of Ukrainian immigrant Anastasia Vazquez, 42, also was unaccustomed to the sight of her sister’s body being cremated in a pink coffin.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe she was being cremated. It was my sister, and all of us loved her. It hurt me very much.”

Rodolfo Pacheco, 71, son of Venezuelan resident Hilda Pacheco, said it was too early to tell what effect the death would have on the other patients at the cancer center.

“I will go visit my father,” Pacheco said, “and make sure he gets the best care possible, so that his last few months are not a waste.”

Sanchez said she was planning to attend a benefit concert and dinner in her mother’s honor Saturday at Gumbies Gentlemen’s Club.

“She loved the entertainment business,” Sanchez said. “She always went to the clubs in our neighborhood. She loved to laugh. She wasn’t just my friend, she was my second mom. She would always make you feel better when you were sad.”

Rosales Garcia’s son, Francisco Ayala, said he didn’t attend the ceremony because he lost his grandmother after attending a similar event.

“We miss her a lot,” Ayala said. “But at least today we can say goodbye, and I am happy that the tumor is gone.”

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