News Articles

Meet Evelyn Marin

A New York Times Feature

Photo by Calla Kessler/The New York Times

By Elisha Brown, The New York Times 

Evelyn Marin learned she had pancreatic cancer after having operations to remove tumors from her brain and cysts from her spine. Sidelined for months, she fell behind on her rent. Evelyn Marin had been out of the hospital for less than two months — after operations on her brain and spine, and to remove her pancreas — when she received an eviction notice from her landlord. Before the operations, Ms. Marin, 23, had been the breadwinner in her family; the money she earned as a hairstylist covered the rent on the duplex she shared with her mother and younger brother in Yonkers. But Ms. Marin’s health issues forced her to stop working. Her mother found a job at a deli, but she was not making enough and the family fell two months behind on the rent. The eviction notice arrived in April. “I felt so useless,” Ms. Marin said. “For somebody who works back and forth and doesn’t stop, and to stop completely, it was very drastic for me.”

They needed immediate help. Ms. Marin reached out to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, which gave Ms. Marin $1,400 to pay her family’s rent for May. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be kicked out,” she said. By the time the rent assistance arrived, Ms. Marin had weathered two years of trauma. She learned she had pancreatic cancer a little over a year after her husband’s suicide. Ms. Marin was working at a hair salon in Chinatown in September 2018 when a cascade of health problems began. She started having debilitating migraines that painkillers would not help. A week after the headaches started, she fell in the salon.

Ms. Marin tried to rest on her day off, but the pain only worsened. “My head was hurting so bad, I couldn’t even turn my eyes or breathe,” she said. “I ended up in the hospital emergency room.” Doctors told her she had excessive fluid and several tumors near her brain. “They said, ‘If you waited two more hours you could’ve died,’” she recalled. “‘Your head was going to explode.’” After the tumors were removed, Ms. Marin had another operation to remove cysts from her spine. She was recovering from these operations when she received the pancreatic cancer diagnosis last December. Ms. Marin had struggled with pancreatitis since she was a teenager, but had thought she could manage it by modifying her diet and exercise habits. Her doctors told her in 2014, however, that her pancreas was covered with cysts and that she would need surgery.

At the time, Ms. Marin, who had studied cosmetology at a vocational high school, had just started working at a hair salon in Chinatown. She did not have the operation. “I just ignored it and said, ‘I’ll be fine,’ like every other teenager does,” she said. Ms. Marin came to the United States from Mexico with her mother when she was 9, and is protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Her DACA status comes with a work permit. Ms. Marin loved her job. “I was able to do everything there — mix, color, do haircuts, learn, get money,” she said. She worked at a salon in Chinatown for two years before moving to another salon a few blocks away in 2016.

While she was focusing on establishing a career and supporting her family, she also fell in love. Mr. Marin met her husband, Adam, in high school when a food fight broke out and he shielded her from being covered in egg salad. “That was a good save because I had an interview later that day,” she said. A friendship developed between the two, and they began dating after graduation, marrying in July 2017. Just months after they married, Adam, who had fallen into depression, committed suicide. The trauma pushed Ms. Marin into despair. She did not want to talk to anyone, and she blamed herself for rushing into marriage. “It took a lot from me,” she said.

It was just a year after her husband’s death that Ms. Marin found herself in the hospital, worrying about how her family would make ends meet. While her mother worked part time in the deli, her brother, now 11, was receiving $150 a month in food stamps. “If I didn’t get stronger, they would be alone,” Ms. Marin said. She used her last checks from the salon to pay one month’s rent. Ms. Marin felt worthless, stuck and trapped. The sound of IV pumps and heart monitors made her anxious, and she dreaded having to ask for help to eat or use the bathroom.

In February, after surgeons removed her pancreas, she was released from the hospital. Ms. Marin, a diabetic who loves sweets, navigated a new diet and adapted to sugar substitutes. Because of her spinal surgery, she had to sleep sitting up for months. Having a hospital bed at home would make this more comfortable, but she could not afford one. Catholic Charities dropped off a hospital bed at Ms. Marin’s house a few weeks after her pancreatic surgery. Eager to show her gratitude, she began volunteering at the organization’s Yonkers office in the spring.

Ms. Marin was cleared to return to work last month and was hired as a receptionist at a hair salon near Union Square. She is considering going to college to study forensic science or oceanic biology. Science was her favorite subject in school, she said. The sudden shift from being the glue holding her family together to feeling helpless as she battled cancer has changed her perspective.

 “I see life differently,” she said. “I learned to appreciate a lot of things that I didn’t before.”

Read the full article from the New York Times

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