VACAVILLE — Donna Quintero has witnessed the effects of cancer from many different perspectives.
She watched her mother go through chemotherapy and eventually die from breast cancer at 33 when Quintero was just 7. She helped her friend, Renee Prusso, through two bouts of breast cancer until she died last December. Quintero is a survivor of breast cancer.
She received a lot of support during her treatment from friends and family, including Prusso – the two went through chemotherapy at the same time. Her church also helped Quintero with small gestures such as home-cooked meals for her family. At the time, Quintero hardly remembered getting meals from the church, but she said her husband was very grateful.
This act of kindness on behalf of the church inspired Quintero to provide similar services for other cancer patients and their families. She started the organization Pink Lemonade in March 2012 and received nonprofit status in August of that year.
The name was inspired by the old adage, “When life gives you lemons” but with a twist.
“I like to say ‘When life gives you lemons, make pink lemonade out of it,’” she said.
Quintero said the experience of going through cancer treatment was an emotional journey for her and her family.
On Mother’s Day 2008, she found a lump in her right breast. Doctors later discovered she had four lumps. She and her doctors decided to remove her right breast, later finding she had seven masses.
She was supposedly cancer-free, but still went through several weeks of chemotherapy. The process was an emotional journey, Quintero said – especially losing her hair.
“It was devastating,” she said. “I just had flashbacks to mom.”
Quintero said the first the few weeks of chemotherapy were a blur; she couldn’t work or take care of family because she was so sick. Most of those responsibilities fell to her husband. After her treatment, she realized what a great thing the church did for her family.
“Afterward I looked back and said ‘Wow what a relief to my husband,’ ” she said. “Thank you for taking care of my family.”
Quintero started reaching out to cancer patients and their families, asking if they needed help with day-to-day things such as meals or lawn mowing. At first the families were leery – they didn’t want to burden other people, Quintero said.
One of Quintero’s first patients was her friend, Prusso. After her second diagnosis of breast cancer, the chemotherapy treatment put a huge burden on the single mom and her four children.
The cancer was an especially difficult burden for Prusso’s 16-year-old daughter, Elissa Prusso. Her daughter took over as a caretaker and a mom to her three younger siblings after their mom fell ill. The teen also went on independent study so she could take care of her family.
Elissa Prusso got her driver’s license right after her mom got sick, which worked out well for the family, she said. She drove her mom and her siblings everywhere, she cooked for her family and she did all she could to make her mom feel OK.
Quintero offered to help the family out with three cooked meals a week. Though the mom was resistant, Quintero told her there were “no ifs, ands or butts about it, I’m going to help you.”
The small gestures provided relief, Elissa Prusso said.
“It lifted this burden for my whole family,” she said. “It’s one less thing to worry about, one less thing to bottle in my brain.”
Quintero helps out cancer patients and families throughout Solano County. She said she’s willing to expand upon her services based on what’s needed most.
To learn more about Pink Lemonade or to download an application for volunteering visit www.pink-lemonade.org. Patients and families seeking services can call Quintero at 901-7465 or email email@example.com.
Reach Heather Ah San at 427-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HeatherMalia.