San Diego Family Beats Cancer Twice

Never bet against Angelica Foster.

Staff from Project Concern International (PCI) first met the San Diego mother in 2010.

At the time, she was pregnant and raising two children alone—eager to reset her life after a painful separation.

“Angelica faced many challenges and barriers, but I believe she had the determination to move on,” said Maria Barraza, PCI’s Healthy Start Program Coordinator. “[Our program] was just the little push and support she needed to feel and know that she was not alone.”

Healthy Start connects pregnant women like Foster and other parents with children under age 2 to core health services, education, case management and support groups. When Foster joined the program, she actively participated in classes related to mental health and wellness. In addition to receiving bus passes, diapers, baby clothes and other resources, she also became more self-sufficient by building her financial literacy and computer skills.

Just as she began to feel more secure and hopeful about her family’s future, doctors diagnosed Foster with cervical cancer. She had only recently given birth to her third child. While nothing could have prepared her to hear the devastating news, she credits PCI with giving her the ability to handle it.

“Healthy Start helped me with the counseling and support I needed to have a more positive attitude and to know that I was not alone to fight for my health,” she said.

Through the program’s patient navigation services, Foster was referred to a clinic and the American Cancer Society. She diligently attended her medical appointments, followed through with her doctor’s instructions and eventually became cancer-free after an emotional and physically taxing journey.

“It’s like when you have a very heavy weight over your shoulders and suddenly you get rid of it,” Foster said.

Even so, only a short period of time passed before she was given yet another burden to carry. Her 15-year-old daughter, Arlene, was diagnosed with bone cancer and forced to go on medical leave from high school.

Angelica Foster (right) was one of the first people to participate in PCI’s Healthy Start program in 2010. After giving birth to her third child, she and her eldest daughter (left) received back-to-back cancer diagnoses. // Photo credit: Jeffrey Brown

“It’s something that you don’t wish on anybody. It’s a very painful experience,” Foster said, recalling how difficult it was to see her daughter lose hair and weight while undergoing chemotherapy at the local Children’s Hospital. Throughout the ordeal, she continued to stay in touch with Barraza—her patient navigator—and other PCI staff connected to Healthy Start.

“She relied on us to talk and to cry, but most of all she shared that she always felt the support was there at any time to guide her entire family,” Barraza said.

Now, more than seven years since PCI was introduced to this brave mother-daughter duo and family, both Foster and Arlene are cancer-free. And while surviving the disease is reason enough to celebrate, each has continued to set and meet goals that also have them thriving.

Next month, Foster will graduate from college with a medical assistant degree while Arlene is studying to become a veterinarian. Foster recognizes how her family’s bouts with cancer and involvement with Healthy Start played a significant role in preparing her for what lies ahead.

“I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was and to educate myself so that I would be able to help other people who face the same or similar situations,” she said. “[Healthy Start] is a program that is a bridge and support for those who really want to better their lives and the lives of their children and family.”