Cancer survivor helping others

December 8, 2011

Róger Coto’s battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow, has been a long, tough fight. And Coto’s ultimate victory over the disease has surprised even his doctors.

Born on Dec. 18, 1965, Coto grew up in Tibás, a district north of San José, with his parents and four sisters. He attended high school at night and worked days as a messenger for a construction company. Coto’s involvement with the Tibás Parish drew him towards the religious life and he hoped to attend seminary school. 

But at the age of 19, Coto began to have problems with his health and was diagnosed with leukemia. After 17 days of hospitalization, he underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy. The cancer returned three more times, and each time doctors treated the cancer with heavier doses of chemotherapy.

Then, doctors told Coto and his family that his bone marrow had stopped functioning; without a bone marrow transplant he had only 30 days to live. Doctors performed compatibility tests on Coto’s four sisters and discovered that his sister Maria was a perfect match. The bone marrow transplant was successful, and Coto became the first person to undergo a transplant for the disease in Costa Rica. 

But as a result of all the chemotherapy and other medical treatments that Coto had endured over the years, he suffers from an advanced stage of osteoporosis in his femur and will need to undergo surgery. Despite this, Coto is happy to be alive and cancer-free. 

As a cancer survivor, Coto now provides inspiration and assistance to young patients undergoing transplants at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, in San José, in the same unit where he was treated. Coto said that he helps patients understand how they’re feeling, answer their questions and help them stay positive. Coto’s peaceful and serene demeanor has earned him the nickname, “Padrecito,” an endearing term for priest, around the hospital. 

In addition, Coto has organized a self-help group for people diagnosed with cancer and volunteers at a home for young patients who travel to San José to undergo transplant surgery. 

Coto’s grandmother fostered in him a love of gardening, which he has developed into a small business. The plants and flowers he sells at different markets generate a little income and provide him with great satisfaction. In the future, he hopes to expand the nursery and learn more about plants, especially orchids. Coto also maintains neighbors’ gardens and plants squash, cilantro, radishes and other vegetables in a nearby plot. He believes that it is important to keep busy and be creative to overcome life’s obstacles.

Coto admits that he has always been a positive person, fortified in his spirituality and his faith in God. He is extremely grateful for the help of his family, especially his sister Maria, and to all the people who prayed for him over the years.

Coto doesn’t worry too much about tomorrow. He lives each day to the fullest. And right now, he feels pretty good with himself.

Editor’s Note: This holiday season, clients of The Tico Times received hand-crafted bamboo gifts made by Róger Coto. We hope Coto’s story helps inspire you as it did us, and that the gifts serve as a reminder that with solidarity, cooperation and passion, life’s obstacles can be overcome. Happy holidays!

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