By: Saraana Jamraj
A familiar face who remembers not only her customer’s names but their food preference is in the fight of her life after being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Ingrid “Paola” Gonzalez, 47, who works at Juicery Rx, at the Sawgrass Center in Coral Springs, began chemotherapy on Wednesday and is staying optimistic despite struggling financially. Her demeanor is so positive that people were shocked to hear about her diagnosis, which she initially kept private.
“I try to have a really good attitude. God has been in my life a lot, and I don’t feel negative about any outcome at all,” said Gonzalez.
She didn’t even want to share it with her daughter, Monique Honyak, 18, because she had just left to attend school in Indiana.
“She’s my only baby, so of course I miss her. But right now, I’m having my sister send her pictures, so she knows her mom is going to be okay,” she said.
Diagnosed in August, after going to her first doctor’s appointment in years, Gonzalez said it was hard for her to prioritize taking care of herself. Her employers Chad and Kimmy Stultz, Phil Kahn, and Craig Young at Juicery Rx encouraged her by offering to help pay for part of her health insurance.
“I’m a workaholic. No matter what, I worked at my jobs like they were my own. I take pride in what I do,” said Gonzalez.
The pride and positivity she brings to JuiceryRx is part of what inspires so much support from customers in both Coral Springs and Parkland.
“She’s so friendly and knows everyone by name and always wants to know how you’re doing, but never really shares how she’s doing,” said customer Jennifer Cannon.
Cannon said that’s why she was so surprised when she saw JuiceryRx share Paola’s story on their Instagram.
“She’s just one of those really great people who put others first, and the whole community feels the same and wants her to get the help she needs,” said Cannon.
Gonzalez, who lives in Hollywood, is accustomed to prioritizing the needs of others. After her mother died of a heart attack when she was 13, she and her sister, Sandra Silgado, 50, became even closer as they moved to America from Colombia.
“I came when I was a teenager, and I’ve been working in the restaurant business ever since,” said Gonzalez.
Silgado went through Stage 1 breast cancer three years ago and has since recovered. Because of that experience, Gonzalez chose Cigna’s insurance. However, when Gonzalez was diagnosed, Cigna failed to help. For her treatments to be covered, they said she would need to pay a higher premium.
She could not afford to and was facing the possibility of paying out of pocket.
“I didn’t cry when they told me I had cancer. I cried when they said I had to pay $1,349 a month.”
Gonzalez began seeking help immediately. She shared her diagnosis with her family and allowed her employers to share it with the public, which garnered more support.
Like many experiencing illnesses, her support system encompassed by her family, friends, boyfriend, and Juicery Rx community has been essential.
In addition to their help, an American Cancer Association advocate questioned her insurance company on her behalf.
“When [the advocate] got off the phone, she said, ‘You have insurance, but you don’t have insurance,’” said Gonzalez.
Every few days, she calls Cigna, attempting to get what little they have offered to pay.
“Insurance companies are very fast to charge you, but when it comes time for them to payout, they take forever,” said Gonzalez.
After a lengthy search for financial aid, Memorial Hospital offered to pay a percentage of medical costs. However, with five months of chemotherapy, radiation, and eventually a bilateral mastectomy, she still faces $65,000 in medical expenses.
Her daughter created the GoFundMe page to help. At press time, they have raised $3,175.
Gonzalez is still attempting to work her usual 48-50 hours a week to avoid falling further into medical debt.
She urges people to read everything before buying insurance as well as prioritizing their health.
“I never took care of Paola,” said Gonzalez, “but your life is first. Work can replace you anytime.”
Despite the physical, mental, and emotional struggles, she said she remains well spiritually and is thankful for the outpouring of support.
“No matter what, I’m going to pull through.”
Saraana Selene Jamraj is a writer, activist, and a student pursuing her master's degree in mass communications at Florida International University.
She's currently the communications manager at The Salt Box in Parkland and has lived in Coral Springs since 2004.
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