(LAS VEGAS) — A Las Vegas domestic abuse survivor who nearly lost both hands in a machete attack now faces a second challenge. She is undergoing extensive surgery and treatments for uterine cancer.
On the night of March 31, Maria Del Carmen Gomez, 53, was leaving the North Las Vegas convenience store where she worked when she was blindsided by her 50-year-old ex-boyfriend, Armando Vergara-Martinez. He allegedly stabbed her seven times with the machete’s 18-inch blade. In the attack he hacked away at her hands, almost severing them completely.
Miraculously, Gomez survived the attack. In two surgeries, doctors were also able to reattach her hands and repair the damage to her skull. Though it is still unclear if she will fully recuperate and regain full use of her hands, she has been undergoing therapy since the incident and was on the path to recovery.
In April Vergara-Martinez appeared in court and said that he would be pleading guilty to the crime.
Now, five months after the brutal attack, Gomez faces another battle: she is being treated for metastatic uterine cancer.
Gomez was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago, and just last week underwent a lengthy surgery to remove her ovaries and uterus. In the five-hour procedure, doctors removed cancerous tissue from her colon, diaphragm and lymph nodes.
Metastatic uterine cancer begins in the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, and typically occurs after a woman goes through menopause. Treatment typically involves a hysterectomy, or surgery to remove the uterus. The ovaries and fallopian tubes are often also removed.
“The tumor was removed last week,” Rebeca Ferreira, who founded the Las Vegas-based Safe Faith United and is supporting Gomez, told ABC News. “It was huge, and it was in a very advanced stage. The doctors said the colon was affected too. They had to remove part of it. She is undergoing chemotherapy, and they’ve now moved her to a recovery cancer center.”
“She’s there — she’s very weak and very pale. And the bills continue to pile up,” she said.
Ferreira says that both she and Gomez, who is also a diabetic, believe that the cancer may have been accelerated by the trauma and surgeries from her injuries.
“Maria’s body has been under a lot of stress, and on a lot of medications, one surgery after another,” Ferreira said. “I think maybe that the immune system was there, and it triggered [the cancer]. The doctors haven’t said that; they don’t know if this comes from weakened immune system.”
Research varies on whether or not stress can lead to cancer. Some studies have shown that stress can hinder the immune system’s anti-tumor defense, and a 2010 study showed that stress hormones like adrenaline can support tumor growth.
Whether or not the trauma from her brutal attack and her cancer diagnosis are related, the toll on Gomez has been severe.
“She was so strong, she would smile, and say [the attack] was nothing. I’d say, ‘This is not nothing, this is something,” Ferreira said. “Now she can’t take the reality. Now she thinks, ‘What am I going to do?'” she said. “Doctors were very optimistic. The doctors said that by December she’d be using her own hands.”
“After the cancer, she’s another person. She’s very sad, very weak, she looks pale, and fragile, and helpless,” Ferreira said.
Doctors are saying that Gomez will be able to beat the cancer, but she will have to undergo extensive chemotherapy. In the meantime, she cannot work, so she is relying on the donations to support herself.
Ferreira, who is also a domestic violence survivor, and launched Safe Faith United with her own funds, said she is doing all she can to help Gomez. She says that she has held raffles and invited some politicians to help, and soon plans to raise funds on a larger scale.
Ferreira said she also wants to ensure that Vergara-Martinez — who, according to the Las Vegas Sun, could face a prison term of four to 40 years — pays for his crime.
“Since October is National Domestic Violence Month, we’re going to head down to the courthouse with banners,” she said. “The prosecutor just wants a conviction. If he pleads guilty, he can get out. We don’t want him to get away with this.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Julie Wootton, Times-News
Faith Heaton Jolley, KSL.com
Stephan Rockefeller, EastIdahoNews.com