Rosalba Martínez-López: Mom with cancer worries about children’s future

In June, Rosalba Martínez-López was given six months to live.

Sitting in the courtyard of an Austin hospice on a warm afternoon, she has her infant granddaughter sleeping on her lap and tubes coming out of her chest. Martínez-López, 37, looks relatively healthy — she has short, curly hair, a rosy complexion and meat on her bones. But as the hours pass, she begins to lose strength.

After being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and going through many treatments, the disease has metastasized to other parts of her body. The doctors have taken her off treatment, but sometimes the pain is so severe, she can barely talk.

“The truth is, I’ve suffered a lot throughout my life,” says Martínez-López in her native Spanish. “When you suffer, you don’t realize how those things affect you, and you get sick. If you stay quiet or hold things in for many years, you get sick.”

Martínez-López will be leaving behind four children and a grandchild, all younger than 22. The children’s fathers aren’t present in their lives. Three of the children – Amy Mondragón Martínez, 16, Alex Mondragón Martínez, 15, and Kimberley Mondragón-Martínez, 13 — live in a two-bedroom apartment with Martínez-López, as well as Amy’s 2-month-old daughter, Sofia. The oldest child, Ana Anacleto Martínez, 21, lives close by.

“They’ve always been my strength,” says Martínez-López of her children. “They support me in everything; they lift up my spirits.”

Their apartment is small: There’s barely any room for the three children to do their homework or for Amy to take care of her baby. The siblings and grandchild share one room, where they sleep in cots, and the five of them share one bathroom. But although space is an issue, Martínez-López is mostly worried about keeping her children together after she’s gone.

“My worry is that the day I’m not here anymore my children will have to live somewhere that’s not home, in a place where they aren’t treated like part of the family,” Martínez-López says.

Because of her illness, Martínez-López hasn’t had a steady income in more than two years, other than sometimes selling corn at a park with other food vendors. For some months, an ex-boyfriend helped pay the bills, and she frequently gets financial help from Texas Health and Human Services, her church community, friends and family.

Her undocumented status also has added to the stress: She moved from Mexico with her father at age 7. Because of a past abusive relationship, Martínez-López qualifies for a visa for immigrants who are victims of crimes. But right now, that’s the last thing on her mind.

“She’s always been independent; she’s been both our mom and our dad forever,” says Anacleto Martínez, who often refers to her siblings as “the kids.” Her eyes water at the thought of them being separated. She wants to keep them together. “Her worries are my worries.”

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