On May 3, 2017, Ivrose Thelusmond was wheeled into surgery at Memorial Hospital.
Inside, doctors performed a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to remove the breast cancer growing in her body. In the waiting room, her 23-year-old daughter Nehemie Pierre alternated between worrying for her mother and studying for a big college exam the next day.
Pierre got a B on the exam, and her mother pulled through the surgery.
Her family was overjoyed. Her 20-year-old son, Wuiner “Junior” Joseph, was thankful his prayers were heard.
“I just talked to God. ‘Please make sure she’s safe and stays here longer,’” he said.
But that moment of relief was short-lived. Although Thelusmond, 60, survived her cancer, the illness has derailed her life. Now the single mother is looking for a place to live and a job to support her family, which includes her daughter, a new college graduate, and Joseph, who has multiple disabilities.
Thelusmond is now in remission, but the surgery left her with limited movement in her left arm; she can’t reach all the way behind her body anymore. Six months after the surgery, her doctor wrote her a letter clearing her to go back to work as a nurse’s assistant, with the exception that she had to do less physically demanding tasks.
She said her boss at St. John’s Nursing Center in Lauderdale Lakes, where she had worked in the rehabilitation department for six years before her medical leave, told her they didn’t have any jobs that fit her new “light duty” requirements. She was let go and hasn’t worked since, her only stretch of unemployment since she immigrated from Haiti in 1986.
In the next year, the hits kept coming. She had to move out of her Broward County home. A family friend offered to take in her son Joseph in North Miami, close to Marian Center School, the special needs school he attends on scholarship. Thelusmond herself moved into a 1,300-square-foot garage-turned-efficiency nearby, which she could barely afford with her small monthly insurance checks.
This month, those checks stopped.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, because I have to survive,” she said. “If I have to go back [to school] and learn something new I will.”
She needs a light duty job that gives her the flexibility to take her son to his many medical appointments with doctors from South Miami to Boca Raton. “Wherever they send me, I go,” she said of doctors’ advice on the best specialists for Joseph.
Joseph was born with several congenital defects, and has undergone dozens of surgeries to correct them over his lifetime. He’s blind in his left eye and deaf in his right ear. His mom comes with him to every single appointment and every surgery. He loves to play computer games — especially Zelda — and would love the new Nintendo Switch console with the Zelda: Breath of the Wild game.
In December, his sister became the first person in her family to graduate college. She crossed the stage at the University of Central Florida beaming with pride to hand her mother her degree. Pierre moved into her mom’s tiny efficiency, where she helps pay the bills with a copy writing job at Chewy. She’s applying for graduate school, with dreams of one day writing her own zombie-themed TV show.
Thelusmond needs a new place to live, hopefully one where she can once again live with both of her younger kids. She has two older children, a 31-year-old daughter who works for a bank in Tampa and a 27-year-old son who works as a firefighter in Jacksonville.
She wants to live somewhere where Joseph can easily attend school and they can keep up their church routine. She attends a French-and-Creole-speaking church and her kids are regulars at an English-speaking church.
Once she finds housing and a job, there’s a pile of debt to contend with. Some of it medical, from the surgery and cancer care, and some from Pierre’s student loans.
“I was hoping to go back to work and just keep going after the cancer,” she said. “I’m free, that’s what the doctor was telling me.”
But for now, Thelusmond said her faith has kept her optimistic that better days are ahead.
She sighed, looking toward the ceiling. “It’s only God.”
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook