Anaida Vazquez 2018

'Maximum Mom' Anaida Vazquez
It would take more than Hurricane Harvey to slow down the progress of Anaida Vazquez, who had already persevered and succeeded through the deep, rough waters that come with balancing motherhood, elder care, a full-time career and returning to college to pursue a degree.

Vazquez was honored with the 2018 Maximum Mom Award at the 12th Annual HER Awards Luncheon, held August 22 at the Junior League of Houston. The HER Awards are presented each year by Houston Woman Magazine to honor excellent role models in our community.

“I was shocked, moved and humbled because I felt I wasn’t worthy of this award,” she said. “There are so many other deserving women out there that are true heroes and should be recognized.”

An office manager in the  Patient Education Department at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Vazquez was already a mother to four when, through her work in the Harrisburg Rotary Club, she met scholarship recipient Eligio Cisneros. Raised by a single mother, the young man was a graduate of Austin High School, just like Vazquez. The autumn he enrolled in Texas A&M University, his mother passed away, and Vazquez learned he had no other relatives. Her family immediately took him in as one of their own.

“My husband and I just asked him to stay with us, not realizing that it would become permanent,” she said. “We’re glad he is a part of our family, and I hope he feels at home with us as well.”

Not only did the young man automatically acquire several aunts, uncles, cousins, a nephew and a grandfather, he also gained three sisters and an older brother. Vazquez’s children are Franky, 28; Vanessa, 26; Anaida, 21; and Monica, 19.

“We always say our kids are special, but what makes each of them very special is the fact they all have chronic illnesses, and they’ve learned to live and cope with well,” Vazquez said.

Franky was diagnosed with epilepsy at 16, and the others cope with various autoimmune diseases like hypothyroidism, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia.

“We raised our kids to be thankful for everything that is handed to them, including these illnesses, which have not stopped them from accomplishing their dreams,” she added. “We also raised our kids to have servant hearts.”

The children have volunteered in various capacities in places like Galena Park Little League, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Calvary Chapel and by feeding families at the Willowcreek Apartments.

“In 2004, tragedy struck our family,” she said. “My mom was diagnosed with primary CNS lymphoma (cancer in the brain), and I felt my world fall apart.”

Vazquez arranged for her mother to be treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“I went with her to almost every appointment and spent countless nights with her while she was being infused with chemo as an inpatient. My mom was a true warrior! She kept her faith, and the best of all, she kept her sense of humor,” Vazquez said.

Although Vazquez’s mother survived for nine years after her initial diagnosis, a relapse took her in 2013. Two years later, in 2015, Vazquez’s dad was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, a more easily treatable form of leukemia. He is also being treated at M.D. Anderson.

Caring for family members as a “sandwich generation” caregiver might be enough to try the courage and perseverance of anyone, but even more was heaped on Vazquez’s shoulders in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey devastated the home she and her husband had built the year before.

Two feet of water inside destroyed almost everything, and she moved into her sister-in-law’s recreational vehicle for two weeks. Then, she and her husband slept on lawn chairs in the house during two months of renovations, while their daughters and grandson occupied the RV.

No setback has deterred Vazquez from going back to college to complete a degree in business. A minor in Spanish will help her become certified as an interpreter so she can volunteer at M.D. Anderson in its Language Assistance department.

“I used to stress about finishing my degree by a certain time, but I finally realized earning a degree has no time clock. All I know is that I will persevere just like my mom did," said Vazquez. “In the end, I will have gained knowledge, wisdom, and a lifetime of experiences that nobody will ever be able to take from me. I hope to be a good role model for my kids –– not just in regard to school, but in life in general.”

Deborah Quinn Hensel is a freelance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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