.- Though Mayra Sandoval died of cancer on July 8, her son Samuel is alive and healthy thanks to her insistence on choosing life, against the advice of doctors who urged her to abort. Now, Mayra’s husband and friends remember her as a powerful witness to the immeasurable value of life.
In an interview with "El Pueblo Catolico," the Spanish newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, Mayra’s husband, Ricardo Flores, recalled the battle of faith and trust that the couple underwent in the months leading up to her death.
Both Ricardo and Mayra were born in Mexico. They moved to U.S., where they met three years ago, began to date, and eventually moved in together. At the time, neither had a strong faith, but they were nevertheless overjoyed when, in October 2008, Mayra became pregnant.
Months later, doctors detected a cancerous tumor in Mayra’s lungs that was already in an advanced stage and was still continuing to grow. Mayra was advised to abort the baby on the spot, so that she could start a treatment to halt the cancer growth.
But Ricardo and Mayra chose life. Although it was difficult, Ricardo said he never had any second thoughts in the decision to choose life. When the option of abortion was presented, "We always said ‘no.’ We couldn’t do that," he explained. "God gave life and God takes it away."
"And we can trust in God and let His will be done," he continued, explaining the peace that the couple found in abandoning themselves to the Lord’s will. "We can accept whatever God sends us, good or bad."
While Mayra’s cancer continued to take its toll, the couple was beginning to learn more about their faith. Mayra’s sister, Aida, recalled the couple’s spiritual journey. She described how God had not always played a prominent role in her sister’s life. "She believed, but like many Catholics, did not know her faith," she said.
The road was difficult, but Ricardo and Mayra were not alone. They received prayerful support and solidarity from the Catholic community, including prayer groups from St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph’s parish.
Particularly memorable for Ricardo was the loving presence of Fr. John Gregory, who helped the couple through their struggle. "He was always close to us," he said, "teaching us, helping us, supporting us, strengthening us, speaking to us about God, of all that God had done for us."
The sickness brought many trials, but also moments of light and hope. One time, the couple passed by St. Joseph’s Church as they were on their way to the hospital. Mayra was experiencing sharp pains and having difficulty breathing, but she asked to stop at the Church.
"Without thinking about it, we got out and as we entered we saw the image of the Divine Mercy and she started to cry right there," Ricardo said, noting Mayra’s devotion to the image of Divine Mercy.
They stayed at the Church praying for about two hours, first alone and then with members of a prayer group who arrived and offered to pray with them. Mayra’s pain soon disappeared.
"As we went home, we were reflecting on all that had happened: we were going to the hospital but ended up in the Church," Ricardo said. "That was another incredible thing that consoled us and brought us peace. Again we realized that we weren’t alone."
Six and a half months into the pregnancy, Mayra began chemotherapy. About six weeks later, however, doctors determined that the treatments were not working, and they had to perform an immediate caesarean section.
The operation involved a high risk of death for both Mayra and her son. It was an intense day of prayers and trust, Father John Gregory explained, and it affected even the hospital workers. "The nurses said, ‘This the first time we have seen something so strong, the blending of life and death.’"
Mayra survived the C-section, and Samuel was born, healthy for a premature baby. After a few weeks, the family was able to go home, but Mayra’s condition continued to decline, until she had to return to the hospital, where the pain could be controlled.
Despite radiation therapy, the cancer overtook Mayra’s body and eventually, she was unable to eat or even breathe on her own.
On June 21, while she was in the hospital, Mayra and Ricardo were married. As they had grown in their faith and received guidance from Fr. John Gregory, they had come to see the meaning of marriage.
"We got married in a room in the hospital. It was beautiful," Ricardo said. "Afterwards, we felt peaceful, in God’s grace. We also did it for Samuel, so that he could also receive God’s blessing of having his parents married."
As her condition grew worse, Mayra’s family prepared for the end of her earthly life. Aida described the beauty that shone through the pain of her sister’s last days on earth. "At the end, I saw her like Christ, with so many wounds and bruises on her arms and her side," she said.
Those who knew Mayra will remember her beautiful witness to life. Fr. John Gregory described the opportunity to accompany Mayra along this difficult journey as "an incredible path of faith" for his own life.
"[T]his experience has given me more strength to preach what death really is, because she gave me a witness of a new birth," he said. "It has given me more enthusiasm and helped me to understand that I have to explain that the true death is sin, not physical death."
Ricardo said that Mayra’s sickness and death taught him about the existence and love of God. "Through all this, God made me know that He exists, that He is with us," he said.
Ricardo wants to give back to the Catholic community that has and continues to support him. But for now, his primary focus is his new son, whom he wants to raise and educate in God’s love. "Now I have to look after Samuel, and tell him that his mommy gave her life for him," he said.
Although coping with Mayra’s death is still difficult, Ricardo finds strength in the Lord as he moves forward. "Now I’m at peace," he said. "I have hope and continue trusting in God. It has changed my life."