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From homeless to health care hero: Woman works to help others fight cancer

Advocate recounts quitting job to be eligible for care
Posted at 10:53 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 10:53:51-04

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida woman who was once homeless is now a health care advocate and using her story to help others.

They don't make women much tougher than Liliana Herrera. The Palm Beach County resident is a two-time breast cancer survivor.

While battling cancer for the first time in 2004 at the age of 29, she lost her medical insurance coverage. Her second diagnosis caught her off guard and uninsured four and a half years later.

"Not only did that leave me with the understanding that the cancer was back, but also the understanding I had no medical means to get it treated," Herrera said.

With no family nearby, Herrera was alone and without many options for medical assistance since she was employed but still above the poverty level.

"When I had to make the decision of quitting my job, having to leave the apartment. Because without a salary, I couldn't pay my rent. (I found) myself to be homeless, waiting for my income to be low enough that I would qualify for medical assistance," Herrera said.

With nothing to her name, the kindness of a friend led her to a warehouse in Royal Palm Beach where she lived.

Herrera returned to the warehouse for the first time in 17 years and said she wants other women to know there's help available.

Assistance is available at organizations like the Promise Fund of Florida, co-founder Nancy Brinker said.

Brinker said through proactive exams and screenings, women can catch ailments like breast and cervical cancer early and avoid decisions like the one Herrera had to make.

"She had to give up her house, her job, her car and live in a warehouse so she could qualify to be 200 percent below the poverty line and be treated," Brinker said. "Thank God there were some really humane compassionate people around her to help navigate her."

Herrera now works as a navigator with the Promise Fund, acting as a one-on-one guide to screening diagnosis and care.

"It's a life calling. It's a life purpose that not a single woman would have to go back and relive what I had to, to survive," Herrera said.

She is now doing what she can so others don't have to relive her story.

"We are all inspiring in our own ways," Herrera said. "We all have an experience we can use to bring someone up and encourage somebody.

It’s a shoulder to lean on, a promise she's willing to keep.

This story was originally published by Chris Gilmore at WPTV.