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When cancer crashed down, faith and love lifted them up

Senior Editor Regular News

When cancer crashed down, faith and love lifted them up

Miami judge writes book to benefit cancer research

Senior Editor

On Valentine’s Day 2010, Miami lawyer Jose Iglesia filled the house with orchids to welcome his wife home from a Catholic retreat. Then, they went out to dinner to celebrate their marriage, happy to still be in love.

Book During that romantic dinner sampling different wines and food, Iglesia showed his wife a little bump on his neck, but they didn’t think much about it.

Two months later, on April 13, their world came crashing down when Iglesia was diagnosed with stage 4 head and neck cancer.

“This was to be the ride of our lives. All we could do was hold on tight and pray and hope for the best,” writes Mari Sampedro-Iglesia, associate administrative judge in the Juvenile Division in the 11th Circuit.

Judge Sampedro-Iglesia lays bare her fears, vulnerabilities, hopes, prayers — and yes, even gratefulness for the gifts of love and life — in her book, The Heroes Among Us.

A ll proceeds from the book ($8,000 to date) will be donated to the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center for research in finding a cure for head and neck cancer and to further research focusing on sentinel lymph node biopsy, minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, and photodynamic therapy of head and neck surgery.

Only 3 to 5 percent of all cancers are head and neck cancer, she writes.

“As her husband’s cancer surgeon, I read this book from a different perspective,” Dr. Francisco Civantos, co-director of Sylvester’s Division of Head and Neck Cancer, Department of Otolaryngology, wrote in the book’s forward.

“It made me feel the pain of my patient who I had sometimes addressed in a purely factual and scientific manner. It will help me remember that we cannot cure the body without addressing issues of the spirit.”

Judge Sampedro-Iglesia’s spiritual journey with her husband and two sons was first chronicled in her personal journal to try to capture the many “emotions that bombard a family facing the monster that is cancer.”

Soon, she realized she wanted to share the story publicly, hoping those facing similar challenges “will find peace, comfort, and strength in knowing that with faith, hope, and love, all things are possible.”

“I have seen my ox of a husband wither down nearly 80 pounds. I have seen his strength, and I have seen his vulnerability. I have been so very blessed with my sons, my parents, my brother (Miami lawyer David Sampedro) and his wife, my nieces and nephew, my colleagues, and a multitude of friends that could not be more ‘family’ if our genes came from the same family tree.”

Her courthouse colleagues covered for her for a month, so that she could be at her husband’s side during his radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Eleventh Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman calls her colleague’s book, “a lesson in facing a life challenge with courage, grace, and wisdom. Ironically, by sharing the story of Jose’s illness, Mari has turned sadness into strength, fear into courage, and reminded us of the limitless power of true love. I am proud just to be her friend.”

As Sampedro-Iglesia notes, cancer will attack one of out every two men and one out of every three women in their lifetimes.

“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she writes. “Cancer is a life sentence, and each day you live, after you have been diagnosed with cancer, is a gift. Cancer can destroy families or unite them.”

Clearly, Iglesia’s cancer served to unite his family and brought together friends that numbered 60 at their home for a rosary session to pray for strength, healing, and knowledge to make the right decisions.

Before cancer, 54-year-old Jose Iglesia was a full-time litigator who spent all of his days in court.

“He has not been able to go back to that,” Judge Sampedro-Iglesia said in November. “He does go to the office for routine office work, but because of doctor visits, fatigue, and issues with his voice, he has not been able to return to litigation.”

Her husband’s battle with cancer has brought home the fragility of life and the blessings of true friends.

“The experience reminded us that cancer affects people from all walks of life and brings home what we have tried teaching our children for years,” Judge Sampedro-Iglesia writes.

“In God’s eyes, we are all His children, and we are all the same. It makes no difference to God, fate, or cancer what school you go to, how much money you have in the bank, or what car you drive and, clearly, it should not make a difference.

“At the end of the day, we are all human beings struggling to find happiness and health somewhere out there. It is for this reason that I have always felt so strongly about enjoying the moment we have with our loved ones — you need to grab happiness while you can.”

To purchase The Heroes Among Us, go to

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