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Battling Breast Cancer, Single Mother Takes Strength From Her Children


Josmery Batista, 34, had braced herself for many of the side effects that would result from her palliativechemotherapy treatment. She knew about the dizzy spells, the head painand the body aches, just as she knew about the fatigue, which weakens her so much at times that she is unable to bathe her infant son or even to hold him.

But when her nails became so brittle that she could not properly wash dishes, a development as alarming as it was discouraging, she sought comfort and reassurance from one of her new friends walking the same path.

Ms. Batista, a single mother of three, knows that she is blessed to have found a support group of others, like her, who are undergoing cancer treatment, and she gains additional courage from the memory of friends who did not survive. She also knows how blessed she is to have sisters to lean on for help.

But friends and siblings alone are not what fortify her will to survive.

“My children give me the strength to fight this illness, this disease,” Ms. Batista said. “My support system has been a great help. But what keeps me going is my kids.”

Five months into her pregnancy with her son, Jeremy Tavarez, now 1, Ms. Batista began to experience excruciating pain from her neck to her midsection. She had no idea what was wrong. When she sought help, examinations ruled out ailments like arthritis or liver problems. Tests for cancer would have involved radiation and, thus, potential harm to the baby, so Ms. Batista waited until after the birth to be tested further. Last November, one month after her son’s birth, Ms. Batista was told she had Stage 4 breast cancer. The disease has since spread to her liver and her bones.

She receives chemotherapy treatment every 21 days at Elmhurst Hospital Center, near her home in Flushing, Queens, and is then required to take pills for the next 14 days. The side effects of that medication are the cause of much of her discomfort.

Petite yet resilient, Ms. Batista is driven to take Tylenol instead of a nap. She will weather the lethargy and endure the pain to ensure that her son and her other two children, Erika, 10, and Analisse Tavarez, 4, can have as normal a life as possible. Whenever she is able to, she plays with her children, accompanies them to school or helps them with homework.

“Even though she’s battling every day, going to the hospital and stuff like that, she doesn’t let her kids fully know, and they’re happy,” said Ms. Batista’s sister Dalisa Batista, who assists with child care.

Josmery Batista, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1998, had been employed for 13 years as a jewelry sample maker in Manhattan. She has been unable to work since her treatment began and is living month to month as a result.

She receives $450 a month in food stamps and collects $868 monthly in workers’ compensation, a payment that is set to expire in January. Ms. Batista says her children’s father also provides $400 a month in child support. Her rent is $1,100 a month.

With her finances tight, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, one of the agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, granted Ms. Batista $500 from the fund in September to cover five weeks of child care when she is at treatment and her relatives are unavailable. The agency also supplies the family with food from the Queens North Community Center pantry, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities.

“She stays very strong,” said Dalisa, who describes her sister as an inspiration. “I never really see her crying at home. She doesn’t cry in front of the kids.” Dalisa added that her niece Erika, who is still too young to fully grasp the severity of her mother’s situation, boosted morale with a child’s innocent honesty.

“Her daughter always gives her strength because she always tells her, ‘You’re beautiful with no hair,’ ” Dalisa said. “She tells her stuff like ‘I don’t want you to wear wigs. You’re beautiful to me.’ ”

The future holds many questions, but estimates are that Josmery Batista will be receiving treatments for at least the next six months. She says she will continue to do what she has been doing all along, basking in the love of those around her.

“I live my life as normal as possible, and I push myself to do the things I need to do,” Ms. Batista said. “I’m not going to allow the illness to dictate how I’m going to carry my life and what I need to do as a mother.”