HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Being from a remote island, extensive health care already has its challenges, but even more so during this time of COVID.
The Ignacio ohana has faced obstacles while treating cancer having to make the journey back and forth from Molokai to Oahu for care, which has been more difficult and limited during the pandemic.
Family is everything to the Ignacio ohana, where Molokai has been home for generation after generation.
Liza Ignacio comes from a big family and she is the second youngest of eight children.
“Very loving, very caring — she is one of those who would do anything for anyone, but she is that one who won’t accept help from other peoples,” said Tony Herearii Negrillo, Liza’s brother.
Liza is a mother of three, tutu of 12 and auntie of many nieces and nephews. She has survived ovarian cancer over the years, but it recently returned along with leukemia in November.
“So our family carries the BRCA-gene what that means is that you have a higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer,” said Tiare Mahinaokanani Holm, Liza’s niece.
Liza’s family defines her as humble, especially since she never showed her true pain during this fight against cancer. Always having a smile on her face, all to protect her ohana.
“Her fighting spirit being an example to my kids no matter what she was going through, and as far a spiritual wise, she always had a smile on her face and she was really good at hiding it,” said Brandon Kalani Ignacio, Liza’s son.
It is an enduring hardship to battle cancer during this time of COVID, especially when there is limited access to care unlike pre-pandemic times.
“So they are very limited to transportation, now we are only going with Mokulele Airlines since Ohana is leaving,” said Negrillo. “When they come for their treatments they would stay at Hope Lodge, but during this whole COVID period they had to shut down; so if they had to pay for hotels, imagine how costly that is.”
“Knowing is today going to be the day? Am I going to have to come back here front out money spend whatever time she has left,” said Ignacio. “It is very challenging.”
For many cancer patients from neighbor islands like Molokai, there are more setbacks in getting the proper treatment needed to successfully care for cancer, especially when there is a lack of bed availability due to heightened risks of COVID patients at the hospital.
“She was at the emergency room on Molokai they wanted to air ambulance her over to Oahu but because of not having enough beds, there was a shortage of beds, they weren’t able to send her down,” said Negrillo. “She hung in there for two days and in pain, and took a commercial flight to go to the emergency room.”
“She just kept going to the ER and getting treated for the immediate flare ups and drainage, but she wasn’t really getting the overall care that she needed,” said Holm.
Through this tough journey, Liza had a yearning to be back at home on Molokai but knew she wasn’t well enough for the plane ride. She and her family have been on Oahu since November, staying with close family so she could have access to care on the Gathering Place.
“There is no accessibility on Molokai, so she basically had to stay here on Oahu. It was hard because our entire family and support system is needed on Molokai. We made it happen,” said Holm. “We all came here for our auntie, but she wanted to be home.”
Last week, her family took her to the ocean so she could feel connected to her home-sweet-home. Knowing the soothing waters reached her home island of Molokai through the Hawaiian channels. It was a refreshing dip in the water that her family will always cherish.
“She just had this natural motherly way about her she looked after all of us,” said Holm. “She always made sure we were all taken care of.”
With the struggles of treating cancer during this uncertain and unfair time of COVID, unfortunately, Liza died on Thursday evening.
She was surrounded by her family who have been staying on Oahu with her since Thanksgiving. They know she fought a hard battle and it was time for her to let go. They knew she would be joining other family members who have gone before her.
“I will miss her smile,” said Holm. “She always looked after all of the kids and auntie Liza was that auntie, she loved all of the kids.”
Liza’s legacy lives on through her children and grandchildren, and all who she has touched on the island of Molokai.
“We love and miss you grandma,” said her three granddaughters.
The family is optimistic that she has joined loved ones who have gone before her.
“We know they are together now,” said Negrillo. “Probably celebrating and enjoying life up there — we are going to miss them a lot.”
And the family says, now she is dancing in heaven with her father Richard Negrillo and her sister Berna Puhi who have passed from cancer in recent years, they know she is no longer in pain.
They wish there were more outlets to treat cancer during this time of COVID, so they hope their story shines a light on the need for proper care for cancer patients during this tough time as other families may be facing a similar situation as they have throughout these long weeks.
If you would like to help those facing the same obstacles as Liza’s family, there is a GoFundMe account in her honor called “Liza’s Legacy.”
If you would like to send direct cards of hope and donations to the Ignacio’s on Molokai, you can mail them to:
P.O Box 1332
Kaunakakai, HI 96748