Serious Illness Shapes Courage

Cydni Kline
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Roberta Lerma was only 32 years old when a diagnosis of inoperable brainstem glioma changed her life.
Brainstem glioma is an abnormal growth of brain cells.

Upon hearing the news, her dreams were shattered. “I felt it wasn’t fair,” she said. “I had been married only four months earlier and wanted children in my future.”

As a nurse, Lerma knew what lay ahead. There was a tumor in her brain stem above the pons area affecting vital functions such as breathing and heart rate. Having children would complicate matters. She knew that the tumor could travel directly into the pons area of her brain, and would be life threatening.
Lerma always knew she wanted to pursue her bachelor’s in nursing science, so she took advantage of the downtime and currently studies college algebra at GCC because it’s a requirement for the University of Southern California’s master’s program.

Today, her faith in God helps her cope with the illness. “I do a lot of praying. When I’m frightened, I quote the Bible verse “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Lerma received an associate degree of science in nursing at GCC in 1989, and went on to receive a baccalaureate of science in nursing from Cal State Los Angeles. She worked at Los Angeles County General Hospital for nine years as a registered nurse.

Lerma met her husband Robert, 35, in church, and they were married in 1997.

Four months later, she began to experience double vision, and her left hand trembled.

Lerma went to a doctor, who diagnosed the disease. She was no longer able to work in a clinical setting where things such as fine motor skills – giving shots, drawing blood, and insertion of IV tubes are required.
“My faith in God helped me overcome and cope with this illness.” Lerma was treated with radiation in 1998, and began oral chemotherapy shortly before graduating from CSLA.

Lerma’s and her husband, who is supportive, is often away on business trips. She then stays with his mother, who attends to her every need. “I can’t emphasize enough how helpful my family has been to me,” she said.

Gardening and other projects keep her busy at home. “I have my good days and bad days,” she said. “I take one day at a time. It’s been four years and I’m still here!”

Lerma said she wants to tell every one “not to give up. Don’t quit. There will be times when you’ll think it’s not worth it. Don’t give up.”

Lerma said, “Through this experience, I have met cancer survivors whom I can comfort, I’ve met new friends, and most of all – I can spend more time with my family. Blessings have com e out of it!”