A tumor the size of an orange made Nelsy curious.
She first noticed the lump growing in her neck at age 12 and went to see specialists in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital. The doctors concluded it was a tubercular ganglion and prescribed medicine accordingly. She went home thinking she was on track towards healing within months and even saw a reduction in the tumor.
Meanwhile, a doctor visiting from Turkey sent her biopsy to the Mayo Clinic on a hunch. The results came back as Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. She immediately started a course of chemotherapy and entered a painful period of slow healing when in her darkest moments she questioned, “Why me?” “Why not me?” her mother encouraged her to ask instead. Though she lost her hair and suffered terribly, she survived, grateful to God and invigorated in her vocation.
She has thanked Dr. Nasrala, also a Christian, every time she’s gone back to Teguz since. “Without his help, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Ironically, she had always wanted to be a doctor. As a child, she made the neighborhood kids visit her mock clinic. However, Nelsy’s family could not afford to send her to the universities in Honduras, so she applied to programs abroad. A program in Cuba offered a full scholarship shortly after her cancer, and she jumped at this miraculous chance.
In Havana, the diversity of the people she met from all over Latin America astounded her. “Chileans are so open-minded and frank.” Once, when the cafeteria announced that they had run out of chicken, all the Central American students lowered their heads and resigned themselves to eating rice and beans, but the Chileans stood up and protested. “Chileans, Uruguayans, Argentines, they demand their rights.”
She, on the other hand, struggled to find courage in Cuba. She was only 16 and ill-prepared to adjust to being away for the first time. “I cried every night for three months and wanted to go home.” She asked her mom to send money to buy a ticket three times, and the last time, she got all her bags packed and then hesitated on the doorstep.
A Cuban friend, Elena, who normally had a gentle way, rushed in and grabbed her by the shoulders, practically shaking her. Elena stared into her eyes. “Honduran women are strong. You can do this. If you go home now, you will only be another mouth for your mother to feed, but if you finish your studies, you will go back a doctor who can help not only your own family but countless others.”
Nelsy wiped away her tears and never looked back. She finished the seven year course and met her husband in the process. Though he now has to complete further surgical training in Guatemala City, where she visits him frequently, she ended up taking a job near his hometown in the south of Honduras. Her days now are spent digging into the lives of her patients at Mission Lazarus and making sure no one misses out on the chance God gave her, asking as many questions as she can.
Her work takes her deep into remote Honduran communities where such sensitivity can mean the difference between life and death. Patients in the mountains often do not know how to communicate their symptoms, and she has to use all the resources at her disposal to investigate.
“Many doctors treat the patient like only a body. I want to always treat others like a person.”