Mineola cancer survivor says thanks by aiding others

Mineola cancer survivor says thanks by aiding others

When Betty Rodriguez was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, her family helped her get through three years of treatment and recovery, she said.

Since then, the Mineola resident has tried to return the favor by helping people get access to health care who might otherwise have trouble doing so.

Her latest effort was last month’s inaugural Nassau BOCES Adult Learning Center Health Fair, which Rodriguez organized in a partnership with the school she has attended for the past three years.

“I feel grateful and thank God because I have opportunity to help somebody else, bcause [there are] many, many people alone,” said Rodriguez, 56.

Rodriguez came to the U.S. from Colombia in 1995 and lived in Flushing, Queens, before moving to Mineola 16 years ago, she said.

She was a pastry chef in Colombia and became a cook before her breast cancer diagnosis caused her to stop working, she said. 

She underwent two years of chemotherapy before the cancer was gone after another year, she said.

“My cancer was very aggressive, so I want[ed] to stay home and save my life for my family,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez got her start in health advocacy by volunteering at Adelphi University and Winthrop-University Hospital, working with programs that help women with breast cancer.

Last year, she brought Nassau University Medical Center’s mobile mammogram unit to the Adult Learning Center, where she is taking Enlish-as-a-second-language courses and working toward a high school degree with the goal of attending college to become a hospital social worker.

From that effort grew the health fair, which drew 17 vendors and groups offering free health screenings, products and information, ranging from a Hispanic beekeeer selling honey to large insurance companies such as United Healthcare, said Patrick Silvestri, the Adult Learning Center’s assistant principal.

The fair was a way to connect people who do not speak English or are not U.S. citizens with health care they need, Rodriguez said. Many of the services were offered in English and Spanish.

“For me [it] was amazing, amazing, because I continue to work for my community,” Rodriguez said. “This is the most important, you know — bring more information [to] our community.”

Rodriguez has gotten more comfortable navigating the health care system over the years, but it can be difficult for people who speak other languages or  who are scared because they do not have health insurance, she said.

Mammograms are especially important for Latina and black women, in whom breast cancer can be especially aggressive, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she plans to hold the fair again next year. It was her effort and interest that made it happen, said Silvestri, who described Rodriguez as “a good, old-school community activist.”

“It … just brings the awareness of our communities to support one another, and I think that’s the way we look at all of this work,” Silvestri said.

Regardless of the fears they might have, Rodriguez said she wants everyone to know that they can achieve their dreams with hard work and support regardless of legal status or language.

“I hope everything I’m doing is inspiration for other girls working,” she said.

By Noah Manskar

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