Elizabeth Cuello, 48, never had an easy life. An only child, the 30-year old Bronx native learned to become independent in more ways than one. After her musician husband was killed in Puerto Rico, Cuello became responsible for raising their three children. “I never give up,” said Cuello. “I always keep fighting no matter what.”
Her tale of bravery and determination for survival during her darkest days began early last year. “I remember I was feeling different,” she said. “I was feeling tired. I wasn’t feeling like myself.”
These vague symptoms would manifest into something more tangible. “‘It feels like a lump, we have to get that checked out,’ was what my mother told me,” recalled Cuello.
Yet, she was not immediately willing to comply. “I was going to make an appointment the next day, but everyone said, ‘go today’.”
Overcoming her reluctance, she scheduled a mammogram with Morningside House on July 17. However, something seemed different about this day.
“I think something is going wrong here because I’ve never seen an appointment go this fast before.”
Cuello was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. “They called me into the office to tell me I had cancer. It was really scary,” she said. “I was praying, praying, and praying that nothing bad will happen.”
In spite of her bleak circumstances, she remained optimistic. “I’m not gonna cry anymore, I’m gonna fight this. My children lost their father, they won’t lose their mother.”
With a team of doctors and family by Cuello’s side, she underwent a mastectomy procedure and the ensuing therapy at Montefiore Einstein’s Center for Cancer Care during most of last year. “The doctors explained everything to me after the surgery. I was reading a lot about cancer and its stages. I would ask them questions,” she said. “After the surgery, I recovered a little bit, but I was in pain.”
Despite her harrowing ordeal, Cuello latched on to good memories in her time of need. “My mother and family took very good care of me,” she said. “Dr. Guimberg was really concerned for me, I really like that doctor because she treated me like I was family. The doctors there are very professional. I was in very good hands.”
She had three main reasons to stay strong; her children, ages 29, 22, and 21. “That is the reason I fought so hard, to show them to never give up.”
Cuello’s chemotherapy ended September 25, 2013. A few weeks later, she participated in a cancer walk, completing the five miles. “I was energetic, but I did it slowly.”
Living in Bedford Park and employed with the School Safety Office at LaGuardia High School for the last decade, Cuello explains how she prevailed. “My biggest help was ‘attitude,’” she said. “God gave me this strength in mind and body for me to work hard for my children and to never give up.”
Ultimately, both Cuello’s inner strength and the support she received helped see her through. “Attitude is the best,” she said. “Life is a precious gift. You have to keep strong.”
With the worst behind her, Cuello remains optimistic about her future. “I encountered a lot of side effects from chemotherapy. I went through all the stages of treatment and the surgery and now I’m healing,” she said. “I do my best and take care of myself everyday. I keep a smile on my face, a great attitude, and stay positive. If it comes back, I will beat it again.”