Cancer Does Not Have Me!!!!

In her brown Merrell Down & Dirty Mud race shirt, she stands on the line jumping up and down, waiting for the race to start. She is 4’11 and 130 pounds. Her once slim figure- is now 15 pounds heavier due to the steroids doctors gave her during chemotherapy. Her once shaved hair has started to grow in. Beside her side is her fiancé, Dennis Billings, a service Technician, and ex-marine who served from 2000-2008. They currently live together in East Windsor, Connecticut.

“My fiancé, DJ met me when I was 15 lbs lighter, had long hair, was healthy vibrant and full of energy and he proposed to me when I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eye lashes, 15 lbs overweight and had no energy to even walk across a room. That’s beyond the definition of unconditional love and support,” said Luanda Cavaco, attorney at The Law Offices of Luanda E. Cavaco, P.C.

Cancer has been a recurring illness in Cavaco’s life, but not the determining factor. Cavaco started running with her fiancé by her side after the gun was shot at the Merrell Down & Dirty 5k Mud race on October 2, 2011.

“I love races like this,” Cavaco said. “The marines yell at us and tell us to go on the floor and do it. I even wanted to be in the Army, but after a 45 minute conversation with a recruiter he could not pack his things any faster when I mentioned I had cancer in the past.”

The Merrell Down & Dirty Mud race consists of several obstacles, military-style, with Marines at each post yelling at the runners to keep going. Cavaco first did the race on October 2010. She decided to do it after her surgery on  June 2010 from Leiomyosarcoma (LMS), a rare cancer of smooth muscle cells. People with LMS develop GastroIntestinal Stromal Tumors, which are developed from smooth muscle in the small intestine. Cavaco had a hysterectomy because the cancer started in her uterus. Doctor’s believed they had removed all of the cancer cells.

September 2010, Cavaco found out her cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and abdomen and would have to start chemotherapy.

Her first treatment was on October 14, 2010.

“I was already registered for the race,” recalls Cavaco. Everyone asked me if I was still gonna race and I said hell yeah. I think it was my fuck you to cancer before I started chemo.”

Cavaco has been affected by cancer since she was 13 months.

“One day I was changing her diaper and I saw blood in her urine I knew something was wrong then. I took the pediatrician the diaper and he took her immediately and sent her to Mount Vernon hospital and they did several exams on her. When the results came in the doctor called me and said that I needed to go to the hospital immediately with my husband. I felt horrible. I felt that the world was ending. I never thought it was what they told me she had. I was so nervous,” recalls Maria Leonor, mother of Cavaco. She was 30 at the time and her husband 37.

On October 14, 1976, her and her husband drove to St. Luke’s Hospital side-by-side holding hands.
“I remember we passed Yankee Stadium on the highway. We kept asking ourselves in the car why, why, why, why with one year she is having this problem? Why us?
 The doctors said it could have been a bladder infection or a tumor in the bladder.
“I felt my world was ending,” said choked up Leonor.

Upon her arrival to the hospital the doctors rushed Cavaco in. The tumor was really advanced at this point and she cried a lot. The doctors performed a biopsy and several exams. 
The doctors said she had a 95 percent chance of dying from the surgery and that she might have not survived the anesthesia at such a young age. When she survived the doctors said she would not live past the age of 5. She was the only baby on the east coast with Rhadomarsarcoma. There was a older baby on the west coast with it.

“We stayed there as late as we could and then we had to leave,” said Leonor with tears in her eyes.

“In the room she was in, there was another baby three years old who also had a tumor and kept throwing up. That night it was raining. My husband and I were holding hands and just kept crying. The next day when we went to see her she was naked on an ice bed and around the bed was a pipe with ice cubes going around it. They had her on the ice bed because she had a fever of 104 degrees. They had her hands tied because she would move and they did not want the IV to come out. The tumor was so big in her bladder that it was already coming out of her urinary tract. The doctors took jugs of urine out of her small body because she was not able to pass urine because of the tumor. Had we gone two days after she would have died.”

But at the age of 36, death was not on Cavaco’s mind.

“I know and feel that God really takes care of his children and I firmly and honestly believe that if you ask God to give you strength and guidance he will give it to you,” said Cavaco.

Cavaco fought Rhabdomarsarcoma cancer as a baby and at the age of 35 on April 15, 2010 when cancer reappeared in her life she looked to God, friends and family to fight this battle. Cavaco who is Half Portuguese and Half Argentinian practices Catholicism.

“I got emails, BBM’s, cards and gifts everyday for months. Some from people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in years! I was on more prayer lists and novenas that I could tell you about. I had complete strangers praying for me simply because they heard about me from a friend. I am so blessed to have all those people in my life. Some people would probably be angry, but I strongly believe God would not have given me LMS unless he knew I was strong enough to take it,” Cavaco said.

Cavaco’s bladder was removed during her first surgery as a baby.

Cavaco wore a small permanent clear bag on the outside of her skin in place of her bladder- you could see part of her intestines through it. At the age of 11, she had another operation in which her incision for her urine was made bigger. Cavaco’s brain was able to communicate with her body when to release urine unlike people with a bladder who get an urge to go to the bathroom beforehand.

Her mother recalls girls making fun of Cavaco at age eight at gymnastics. They could see something was under her gymnasium suit (her urine bag). But her mother recalls that Cavaco never complained or asked why she has had her medical illnesses. 
Till this day, Cavaco’s tumor remains in a lab in Texas for testing. The surgery performed on her was never done before on such a small infant.

Leanor recalls Cavaco’s passion for wanting to become a lawyer since she was a child.

“Ever since I was a kid I would watch divorce court or people’s court and the moment I said I wanted to be a lawyer that was it because my mom took it very seriously and told everyone so I had to live up to that expectation and I am glad I did it,” Cavaco said.

Cavaco graduated with her bachelor’s from the University of Hartford in 1998. She got her law degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2003. She worked as a family court lawyer at The Bruce L. Bozeman Law Firm. Esq, Mount Vernon, NY, since August of 2004. She left the Bozeman office in November 2011 after opening up her own law firm in Connecticut. Her former boss Mr. Bozeman allowed her to keep her clients.

“I practice divorce, family, immigration and real estate. I do minor civil litigation every now and then. I am only licensed in New York so having my NY clients will be crucial, until I take the Connecticut bar I can only practice Immigration because its federal law,” Cavaco said.

Cavaco had approximately about 120 cases. One of her cases included the divorce case of Wendy Mercedes, Teacher, District 4 Spanish Harlem Esperenza Prep on 109th street. Mercedes was married for 15 years until her marriage was getting physically unhealthy for her spouse and the children. They both agreed a divorce was the best thing for them.

Mercedes was not informed of Cavaco’s illness.

“She is very discrete about her cancer. I picked up on it, because of how she looks and one time she emailed me saying she was going to get a surgery and mentioned chemo in the email. I respect her in that sense because she did not have to tell me. I prayed for her and did not ask many questions after that,” Mercedes said. She said that Cavaco’s illness never intruded with her work schedule and court days. She claims Cavaco was easy to get in contact with.

The three most important things Mercedes looks for in a lawyer are “consistency, a timely response, and organization.” “She is good at that cause I am a nervous wreck.”

“During the summer my husband called ACS on me and threaten me with the kids and I became a wreck. She would tell me that it is really difficult to take away children from a mother because of certain procedures. She helps me stay calm,” Mercedes said.

Mercedes liked Cavaco’s approach as a lawyer because she was straightforward and direct.

When Cavaco was going through chemotherapy she would go into the office Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday. She would take the rest of the week off and come back the next Monday, work two weeks and then chemo again.

“There would be some Monday’s where I would come in and still feel bad, but I would eat well and push through it,” Cavaco said.

“I seen people go through what she is going through and it did not look like that. Aside from her not being able to be here everyday she uses technology to the fullest. If we did not have emails then it would be a problem. Even when she was in treatment she would email us saying she had ten minutes and kept her work up to par,” said Miniimah Haden, legal assistance for The Bozeman Law Firm.

Cavaco hoped to get marry June 2013. Cavaco looked at life in a very positive light. She refused to let her cancer determine her life.

Unfortunately, two days before her 37th birthday Cavaco passed away on September 15th, 2012.

Her family said she left in peace with close family and friends surrounding her.

“Every day to chemo I wear a hat that says “Fuck Cancer.” I may still have Cancer, but Cancer doesn’t have me,” said Cavaco.

A Shoe Mechanic Scrapes By

The sound of a rusty, shoe polishing machine brushing across a pair of men’s black dress shoes is heard throughout the store. Dj Brown’s weathered hands are covered in black dye. A white piece of duct tape covers the knuckles of his left hand to hold up his injured pinky, which he recently cut.

As he turns, there are yellow letters on his black hoodie, which read, “The Leather Mechanic At Lenny’s Shoe Repair.”

Repairing shoes has been Brown’s craft since the age of 14 when he lived in Brooklyn, NY.

For Brown, repairing shoes is his life. In the midst of the most severe recession in US history, he finds it harder than ever to survive.

Brown works extra hours, some nights until two or three in the morning. “With a one-man operation there is only so much I can do, with only so many hours in the day,” he said.

The number of customers at Brown’s store has declined.

Since December of 2009, Brown’s profit has been declining $400 to $600 dollars a week.

Brown, a father of 11, lives in Brentwood with his wife Judy, an administrative assistant. He commutes to his shop at 7 a.m. every day except Sundays. When his wife complains about his long work hours, he responds, “If you want the house, food in the refrigerator, and the car, then this is how it has to be.”

Brown bought his shop last year, but had worked there as an employee for 13 years when it was under the management of the former owner.

“The Leather Mechanic at Lenny’s Shoe Repair and Sales,” located at 1512 Main Street, has been in Port Jefferson since 1985. It is one of the few stores on the block that has been able to survive the economic recession. Nine shops have been closed in the village, over the past five years. Eight in uptown Port Jefferson and one downtown.

Village Trustee Leslie Synder said, “We see some store fronts closing and we do see some businesses struggling.”

The Economic Development Committee, which consists of merchants is hoping to come up with ways in which the merchants can increase businesses, such as expanding the annual Dickens Festival.

The Board of Trustees also had put a hold on parking meters from November 15 till March 15th.

Synder said one merchant told her that in the first month of the meters being turned off his business went up 30 to 40 percent in profit from last year’s numbers.

Although the village officials claim they are and have been trying to help merchants, Brown disagrees.

“They have been talking about revitalizing the area (uptown) for two years,” Brown said. “They even had people from the state come by and have not done anything. They made us take a survey. Is it going to happen? Hm, I tell you one thing I ain’t holding my breath on it.”

Brown said the recession has caused him to lose some of his customers, and with less customers Brown has cut back on the number of supplies he buys. In past years, Brown used to order three boxes of shoe polish, he now orders one. He used to regularly order one dozen leather soles a week, he only needs a dozen a month.

One thing Brown refuses to do is order cheaper supplies to save money. “I do not cut corners,” Brown said. “I still buy the same things, that is what keeps my customers around. If you sell them cheap stuff, they won’t come back.”

Many of the customers who go to Brown’s shop have a relationship with him. They ask him how he is doing. They banter about the weather and commiserate about the economic problems.

“It’s always friendly service. He knows what he is doing, and he does it well. And he does it for a very fair value,” said customer Eliel Pimentel, who paid $16 to have his wife’s old boots repaired.

Brown is not the only merchant in Port Jefferson who has cut back or is struggling to make ends meet. Six other merchants interviewed said they are struggling. Some preferred to not-be included in this story because they think it could be bad for business. Others were very vocal about their problems.

Scott Stanley, the owner of Smoke Signals, a cigar shop located at 308 Main Street, has cut back on utilities, contributions to charities, and the number of supplies he orders.

He noticed the downturn in the economy back in October of 2008. “Eleven months in 2009 we were down in profit compared to the past year,” Stanley said. The store is down 12 percent in gross sales this past year.

He said businesses like his tend to suffer the most since it’s not a necessity product. “They have to buy gasoline. They have to buy heating oil,” he said.

The cold weather this winter kept customers away as well. 

While pointing at close storefronts nearby, Susan Adamski, a customer of Brown said “I lived in this town for 47 years. I actually saw the difference in it going down hill. I saw it when it was coming up, and now I see it going down.”

Brown and other merchants are upset about a new business certificate with a fee of $150, issued in January for local small business owners.

The Village Clerk Robert J. Juliano said the fee was implemented to help pay for a full time Fire Marshall and his crew. The remainder of the money goes into the town budget.

Juiliano said, “There was quite a few questions that came up from the business community as far as the business certificate and as a result of that the mayor said let’s put a hold on it.”

Stanley said, “I understand the need for the fee, but I do not like paying the extra fees.” He was one of the few merchants who got a personal talk from the Fire Marshal about why the fee was implemented.

The business certificate fee has been put on hold and will be evaluated by the mayor and trustees.

For now, Brown will continue to work the long hours necessary to maintain his business. “We don’t get the Donald Trumps in here. We get the guys that work two floors down from Donald Trump,” Brown said.

Juiliano believes Brown will survive the recession. “People don’t have the money or don’t want to spend the money on new shoes. Instead they are getting them repaired.”

BY: Christine Vargas 5/2010



16 thoughts on “Stories

  1. I absolutely love your writing style and I read the story of Luanda Cavaco and you had me super intrigued and as Luanda said, feeling love, sadness, happiness and hopeful all the same time. It was very well written and honestly touches the heart. My prayers go to Luanda and really love her motivation and optimism, simply beautiful. Loved it! ❤

  2. Love the story on Lulu. My PM is so awesome and I love her all the more for being who she is throughout this challenge. She’s in my thoughts and prayers always. Thank you for making her story known, Christine.

  3. Thank you for sharing the Luanda story. I worked with her at Bozeman for awhile and she was such a beautiful and caring young lady. May her soul Rest In Peace and Light Perpetual Shine Upon Her. I pray that the Lord grant her family and friends strength in their time of grief. Gone too soon.


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