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Blanca Plaza

Faith, Cancer and Dancing

Holy Name Cancer Center - Blanca Plaza

Blanca Plaza is a religious woman and surviving three surgeries and chemotherapy that wore out her body and wearied her soul did nothing to shake her faith. In fact, she felt she had lived a good life and if her disease was going to end it all, well, at 64 she was ready to let go.

But her children were begging her to give a new doctor a chance to treat her bladder cancer. This time her doctor would speak Spanish and explain what was going on. This time, he wouldn't be the type of physician who treated her and then left for vacation, without anyone to address her horrendous side effects. This time, she would be in a hospital instead of a surgical center.

So Blanca sat in an office in Holy Name Medical Center, reluctantly waiting to meet this new doctor when a man walked by who looked to her just like saint Jose Gregorio, the venerated physician from Venezuela who she prays to all the time. When this man turned out to be her doctor, Dr. Raul Parra, Director of Urologic Oncology at Holy Name and nationally known for his work with bladder cancer, she immediately felt more hopeful.

"He looked like an angel and made me feel very welcome and comfortable," Blanca said. "And he wanted to treat me. I figured if he thought I was dying, he would have tried to send me somewhere else because no doctor wants to see his patient die."

By this time, as she sat in Dr. Parra's office, Blanca was suffering with severe spasms that sent waves of pain through her abdomen all day long. She had undergone three surgeries that were unsuccessful in removing all the tumors from her bladder and endured chemotherapy that made her sick for days after each treatment. The last thing her previous doctor, an urologist near her Garfield home who performed the three surgeries, told her was that she had too many tumors for him to treat and she should find an oncologist. He offered her no relief for her urge to urinate every five minutes or her constant spasms.

Dr. Parra immediately ordered some tests and gave Blanca something to help with the pain. But when he told her he needed to remove her bladder, that it couldn't be saved, she balked. She had raised four children and had a good life – she was tired of surgeries and treatment. If cancer was the way she was going to die, she had made peace with it.

Dr. Parra patiently explained that the ostomy bag she needed wouldn't smell – one of her biggest fears – and she still was young, vibrant and had many years ahead of her. He assured her she would be able to go back to her active life, working as a hair stylist, shopping, and yes, dancing. Oh how Blanca loves to dance.

Blanca agreed to the surgery, praying that God would guide Dr. Parra's hand and that she would need no further treatment. When she woke up, she learned her cancer had not spread beyond the bladder and she didn't need chemotherapy – every one of her prayers was answered.

"I was crying tears of joy," Blanca said. "When I was in the hospital, everyone, the nurses, the entire staff, took such good care of me and then to hear that I didn't need chemo, I was so happy. They even took care of my son and daughter, who took turns staying with me – giving them blankets and making sure we had everything we needed. Out of five stars, I would give Holy Name a 10."

Several months after her surgery, Blanca said she has no abdominal pain or discomfort from the ostomy bag, and frequently forgets she has it. She is waiting for her six-month follow-up visit with Dr. Parra and then she's off to the dance floor.

Learn more about Blanca Plaza's urologic oncology doctor today