BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: Love, lost and found

“I don’t remember her every really being sad,” said niece Stephanie Goodwin, who, as she did throughout Loric’s bout with breast cancer, stood by her side. “There really wasn’t time for mourning or sadness. She just had to step up to the plate and get it done.”

Two years later, after much pain and perseverance, Loric, 50, not only has her whole life ahead of her, but also a new partner standing beside her.

Even before her diagnosis, cancer was an established negative force of change in Loric’s life.

Her husband Jean-Paul died of lung cancer 10 years ago, leading Loric, who at that time weighed about 250 pounds, to make a life-changing decision.

“I decided to lose the weight,” she said. “It was hard enough being a widow, but I didn’t want to be a big widow.”

Loric succeeded in losing 100 pounds, but did not look for a serious relationship. Instead, she opted to spend more and more time with her parents.

Cancer invaded her life a second time with the death of her mother, who hid her disease from her family until a month before her death.

“After my mom died, I was doing more things for my father,” she said.

So when she was diagnosed herself in 2007, Loric said she knew giving up was not an option.

“I didn’t want to jump a ship that had already been jumped by my mother,” she said.

The first major contributor to Loric’s fight against cancer was her mindset.

“I’m very religious, and I’m ready to meet my maker at any time,” she said. “I thought, ‘The worst thing that could happen is you die.’ I love my life, but if I die tomorrow, I feel like, ‘That’s life.’”

“She said, ‘Tell me the course of action and what I need to do, and I’ll do it,’” recalled Goodwin.

Accordingly, when Loric was told she would need to undergo chemotherapy, she took active steps to minimize the mental toll.

“When my husband had cancer, I felt bad, so I cut my hair very short,” she remembered. “I thought losing my hair was going to be the worst, so instead of waiting [for chemotherapy] I had my hair cut short.”

Loric said doing this definitely helped.

“I got used to seeing myself with less hair,” she said, adding that other women facing chemotherapy should do the same. “I know I can help somebody else with this.”

When it came time to lose the rest of her hair, Loric took the same active approach.

“I had my family come and cut the rest of the hair off,” she said with another smile and a sideward glance at Goodwin, who, with the rest of the family surrounding her, was the first to take the buzzer to Loric’s locks.

“When you have cancer, everybody wants to help, but nobody knows what to do,” explained Loric. “So this was a way to involve everybody.”

After her special haircut, Loric said she decided to cover her head with comfortable hats and turbans instead of a wig.

“I’m not the wig type,” she said.

However, when her hair, which was always straight, did grow back, Goodwin said her aunt was thrilled.

“She used to say, ‘I hope it grows in curly.’ And it did!”

Goodwin said it was that type of forward thinking that kept Loric moving forward and helped her take control.

“We’d go to chemo and then go out to lunch,” she said with admiration. “There were very few days when she just laid in bed.”

Loric attributed some of that strength to Goodwin, whom she said accompanied her to chemotherapy every time.

“She’s a saint. If everyone who had cancer had her, it wouldn’t be bad. If you need a ride at 5 a.m., she’s there. If you need medicine, she gets it.”

Goodwin said she never thought of doing anything else.

“I’m like the chemo person,” she joked, adding that she had accompanied a few other relatives to therapy as well. “If you need chemo, just call me up, because I’m going with you.”

So important was Goodwin to her recovery that Loric, while resting in her hospital bed after the last round of chemotherapy, was destitute she wasn’t able to attend her niece’s wedding.

“The last round of chemo just wiped me out,” said Loric.

Loric’s oncologist, Dr. Rebecca Eisenberg of the Hallmark Health Cancer Center in Stoneham, said her patient remained positive despite the pain.

“Even then, as she was missing her relatives at the wedding, she was smiling and appreciative of the treatment.”

Not one to leave family behind, Goodwin decided she needed to see her aunt on the most important day of her life.

“After the ceremony, the wedding party jumped into a limo and headed up to the hospital,” she said. “It just didn’t feel right not having her there.”

Loric was as touched as she was shocked.

“I thought I was dreaming.”

Eisenberg said she too was touched by Goodwin’s act.

“It’s a real privilege to get to work with people and families who are so positive.”

Though the chemotherapy took a lot out of her, Loric emerged from her battle with cancer with a new outlook on life.

“After I had cancer, I had plenty of time to think about my life … and I knew I missed the married lifestyle,” she said. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life by myself … [so] I made a conscious effort to find somebody.”

Loric found that person, Ricardo Quiroga, in October of 2008, not long after finishing treatments.

“He was just very distinguished, very well dressed and charming — just a very nice man,” she said.

Though he hails from Peru, Loric said he shares much in common with her family. “He loves the Red Sox and loves football. I said to myself, ‘I found somebody who is just like my family — yelling at the TV.’”

And just like her family, Loric said Quiroga, a widower, immediately assisted her in her recovery from breast cancer.

“It’s never been an issue for him,” she said.

“Ricardo shares a lot of the same values,” said Goodwin. “I think the cancer allowed her to say, ‘It’s OK to move on … and find somebody.’”

“It made me a better person,” said Loric. “Cancer changed my attitude. It [cancer] doesn’t have to be all sad.”

In addition to changing her attitude, cancer also changed Loric’s body — a change that, she and Goodwin agreed after sharing a glance, was not at all bad.

“My body is better than before,” said Loric.

“I call it, ‘Body by Cancer,’” agreed Goodwin with a smile.

Loric and Quiroga will be married next May, but until then, Loric said she’s more than happy just living out every day.

“Everybody thinks they have all these tomorrows. Now I’ve learned that there’s not always all these tomorrows,” she said. “I live for every day.”

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