He survived Hurricane Katrina. Now Charles Gonzales is determined to survive colon cancer.
"I've never been sick in 41 years," said the 63-year-old, who was diagnosed in March. "Doctors discovered it when I had blood pouring out in my stools. I lost so much blood I passed out."
Tests showed he had colon cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs. "I was 'what? What do you mean? How did I get it?' I never met anyone with colon cancer."
Complicating matters—he was uninsured. Gonzales had worked at the Salvation Army, organizing and stocking shelves until he retired in May of 2012. "I kept thinking, 'What can I do about this?' I ain't got money. I need a new roof for my trailer. It's leaking!"
A social worker at CHI Health Immanuel Medical Center eased his mind by telling him about the financial assistance program. CHI Health is part of Catholic Health Initiatives, a nonprofit health organization with a longstanding commitment to help those who helping care, regardless of ability to pay. Counselors helped Gonzales with Social Security Disability and Medicaid. He also qualified for the Gray Cancer Trust at Immanuel.
"At first I thought 'whoa! How am I going to do this?' But they helped me a whole lot."
Gonzales completed five cycles of chemotherapy at Immanuel and said he's doing well. He put all his energy this summer into his garden, which surrounds his trailer. "I stay as busy as I can in the yard," he said. "I try not to think about the cancer." His garden turned out to be bountiful: his sunflowers were16 feet tall, and his peppers, tomatoes, beets, peas, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash and grapes overtook the front of his lot. "All this from a horticulture class I took back in school," he smiled.
Gonzales still thinks about Hurricane Katrina and how his New Orleans apartment building became an island, surrounded by water on all sides. Like thousands of others, he was forced to evacuate and put on an airplane. "We didn't know where we were going," he remembered. "Then we found out it was Omaha. All I knew about Omaha was Mutual of Omaha and the Wild Kingdom. It's turned out to be a good life here."
He said the medical care has been excellent—and the financial assistance has allowed him to focus on his fight against colon cancer. "They told me, 'Don't worry about the bills. Do what you can to take care of yourself.' They answer all your questions. They take away the stress. If I'd had all the stress, it would have given me more gray hair than I have now."