Elizabeth “Lisa” DeSousa was born October 2, 1969, at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. She recalls spending every day at Hollywood Beach with her brothers, graduating from South Broward High School and meeting her husband at a friend’s home in Hollywood more than 26 years ago. She also recalls her recent battle with cancer. “It started June 1, 2015, when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 3.”
DeSousa was working at Memorial Regional Hospital for a short time when she received the news.
“I felt bad stomach pains while at work and kept ignoring it. My stomach was bloated and I couldn’t eat as I felt full all the time. The next morning I went to the hospital’s emergency room and was diagnosed,” she says.
Testing confirmed she had not only ovarian cancer but abdominal cancer as well. “I couldn’t walk, could barely talk and the pain was horrible. I thought I was going to die,” says DeSousa.
Devastated, she searched for inspiration.
“Since the beginning of this journey, I’ve asked God to show me how I can turn my pain into helping others.”
“I thought about everything I went through,” DeSousa says. “One of the biggest obstacles I faced, like many cancer patients, is as great as chemo kills the cancer, it also comes with many uncomfortable side effects.”
DeSousa’s surgery and chemo treatments were all performed at Memorial Regional but her weekly chemo was stopped with five months left, as she developed extreme neuropathy in her hands and feet. Though it’s much better now, one of her arms swells up with lymphedema, making it hard to raise or pick things up, but she is very grateful to be alive and cancer-free.
The Care Bags
“When I first started chemo treatments, my wonderful sister-in-law gave me a care bag,” DeSousa says. “She told me it was to help me during chemo and was filled with all kinds of goodies: lip balm, lotion, socks and candy to take the metal taste out of my mouth. I treasured that gift and used it every day.”
Every time DeSousa looked at the bag, it reminded her that someone cared about her. “We always hear about the bad stuff on the news, I want people to know the good stuff. Someone took the time to help me feel a little better about what I was going through and then it hit me: I have something to give — a smile to someone who needs it.” With that realization, Stronger Together was born.
To make it happen DeSousa needed help, so she held a fundraiser. She says, “My supportive family, friends and I raised enough money to make 50 care bags filled with scarves, lotion, lip balm, a journal, pen, water bottle, puzzle book, blanket, socks, candy, popcorn and hats knitted by my daughter Raechel and I.”
DeSousa and Raechel didn’t know how to knit but decided that knitted hats would be a great way to help keep the patient’s heads warm. “We taught ourselves how to knit,” says DeSousa. “It was actually a great way to release everyday stress as it kept me from concentrating on my pain. Instead, I focused on the hats keeping the kids’ heads warm.”
Their first care bags went to Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital. “My daughter and I decided on a SuperBoy and SuperGirl theme for the kids. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces and how caring and loving the nurses were.”
DeSousa and Rachael held a second fundraiser and gave the 50 care bags to all the patients in the Cancer Center at Memorial Regional, where DeSousa underwent her chemotherapy treatment.
While she is still being treated at Memorial Hospital and gets monthly blood work, it has only been 10 months since DeSousa’s journey began, but she has faith that she will be fine. “I have gone through a lot of challenges and some days are better than others, but I’m getting stronger every day and know that God is by my side,” she says.
Committed to continue trying to raise funds in support of others fighting cancer and chemo, DeSousa says, “I know the depression that comes with it. I was lucky enough to have a great family that supported me and still does. Not everyone is that lucky, so if I can make a difference in someone’s life I will. I want them to know there is someone who cares and they are not alone in this battle.”
DeSousa still lives in Hollywood, as does her mother. Two of her brothers live in West Park and one brother in Miramar. Raechel is in college to be a nurse and her son Eric is in the Air Force.
To find out more about DeSousa and her mission, visit Stronger Together.