With her two laughing children and tall, handsome husband at her side, Anaelvys Espinoza-Ruiz of Miami is the picture of happiness on Mother’s Day.
With her Miss Universe smile and long chestnut brown hair, Espinoza-Ruiz said she feels very blessed.
Just three days after her boyfriend Justo Ruiz proposed on New Year’s Eve 2005, Espinoza-Ruiz was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was 29.
“I told him you don’t have to marry me,” she said. “I knew he wanted more kids. So he said, ‘We’ll adopt.’ ”
Her husband, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, has a 10-year-old daughter, Mia Vanessa, from his first marriage.
He said the diagnosis was overwhelming.
But Espinoza-Ruiz, who is originally from Venezuela, said her gynecologist obstetrician referred her to Dr. Ricardo Estape, a gynecologic oncologist at South Miami Hospital.
“My gynecologist, Dr. Laida Casanova, called him and he saw me the same day. We went on a Thursday and on Friday he did a biopsy,” she said.
Estape told her that because her tumor was small, she was a good candidate for a new robotic-assisted technique he had developed.
Estape said Espinoza-Ruiz became one of the very first patients in 2006 to have the robotic-assisted trachelectomy (tray-kee-LEK-toh-mee), the removal of just the cancerous cervix. The surgery, which preserves the uterus, can help women not only survive but to conceive children.
A diagnosis of cervical cancer usually means a hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus and the cervix. But with cancer cells detected in the early stages, the trachelectomy offers women the chance to still have children.
In the procedure, the surgeon removes the cervix and surrounding tissue through the vagina and then sews a stitch at the bottom of the uterus to form a sort of drawstring. The uterus is then reattached at the top of the vagina.
Estape said he lectures about the necessity of annual Pap exams for early detection. He said doctors see pre-cancers of the cervix many times a week from abnormal Pap smears.
“We see one to two cases of cervical cancer every month and one of every four of these are in young women without children,” he said.
“Many women from Central and South America don’t even have Pap smears,” Estape added. “There’s not even a word for ‘screening’ in Spanish. To be able to do this procedure it has to be at page one.”
Espinoza-Ruiz said her aunt in Maturín, Venezuela, is a gynecologist obstetrician.
“She always said, ‘This is the only cancer that has a cure.’ When I was growing up, she used to say that every year you have to have your Pap. That’s why I go every year at the end of the year.”
After the operation Espinoza-Ruiz was told she would probably have to have fertility treatments. Shortly after her marriage to Ruiz in September 2006, however, she was pregnant.
“Dr. Estape said it might be difficult to get pregnant and we started trying and within two months she was pregnant,” said Ruiz, 37.
“God gave us a miracle and that was Justin. I was so happy that I had one son and after four years I discovered I was pregnant again,” Espinoza-Ruiz said.
Melanie Isabel was born on Dec. 23, 2011, the same date as her father’s birthday.
Both babies were delivered early, at 35 and 37 weeks, through Cesarean section. Pregnancy after a trachelectomy is considered high risk and Espinoza-Ruiz was on bed rest during the last six months for each. She works as the admissions director for Jackson Plaza.
Her doctor said she is cured from here on. “Now that she’s six to seven years out we see her one time a year,” Estape said. “Just seeing her come in with her two kids makes what I do worthwhile.”
Justin, 5, and Melanie, 16 months, hug and kiss their mom and then speed off to play in the green space near the Ruiz home.
Their dad said he is going to come up with something for Mother’s Day but he kept it a surprise.
“We have a lot of faith in God, besides the doctors, and we feel blessed to have what we have,” he said.
Espinoza-Ruiz, now 36, said she plans to spend Mother’s Day enjoying her kids and her husband.
“They’re my family. I love them.”