Father of six battling brain tumor


At first glance Porfirio Lopez, also known as Partner, seems fine.

His smile radiates happiness and his laughter casts a domino affect on his family, which burst into giggles and smiles at the dinning room table.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Porfirio “Partner” Lopez, right, an Adelino native, was diagnosed with meningioma, a tumor sitting near his pituitary gland, causing him to take unexpected spills, bloody noses and loss of his sense of smell. The tumor, more than two inches large, must be removed to avoid other symptoms it could cause. Lopez travels to Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday to speak with a neurosurgeon, who will be performing the surgery. Above, Lopez stands next to his wife of 46 years, Berna.

His cane isn’t what gives it away, but as Lopez walks, he loses his balance, nearly falling at any moment — a symptom of meningioma.

The 73 year old’s imbalance is due to a more than two-inch tumor lodged near the center of his brain behind the pituitary gland.

On Wednesday, Lopez will meet with a ear, nose and throat neurosurgeon specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to learn about extracting the tumor.

The tumor, which occupies the maximum space available in that part of the brain, must be removed to avoid other health complications that can arise from its presence, such as a loss of hearing and vision, said Lopez’s daughter, Geraldine St.Clair.

“Even now you see him and you wouldn’t be able to tell that something is wrong with him, except when he loses his balance when he’s walking,” added Lopez’s daughter, Dorothy Barreras.

Due to the tumor’s location, removal will have to be through a transnasal endoscopy, where doctors remove the tumor through the sinus area one piece at a time.

The second part of the procedure will reconstruct the area where the tumor sat with tissues taken from other parts of the body.

The Lopezes must travel across country for this procedure, since there isn’t a nuerosurgeon who can perform this type of surgery in New Mexico.

Although there is a possibility that Lopez may have the surgery immediately, depending on the doctor’s availability, it’s also possible he will have to travel back to Pittsburgh during the holidays to get it done.

“We won’t know until we get there,” St.Clair said.

The consultation will also shed light on transportation methods Lopez can use to travel back to New Mexico, the length of the procedure and recovery and if Lopez will need rehabilitation after the surgery.

After the procedure is completed, Lopez will undergo six-weeks of radiation, St.Clair said.

As his imbalance turned into falls, Lopez became worried and checked in with his doctor to find the reason for his sudden spills, bloody noses and loss of sense of smell.

An MRI in late September revealed a slow growing brain tumor, which doctors say has been developing for a number of years, St. Clair said. The tumor has been causing problems now due to its large size.

The news of Lopez’s tumor was a shock to his wife, Berna, and six children, especially since Lopez’s son, former Belen city councilor, David, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in his cerebellum last year.

“What are the chance of two people from the same family having a tumor? Even though they’re two totally different types of tumors,” St.Clair said.

One thing that helped the family swallow the news was the probability that the tumor may be benign, which it usually is in these types of tumors, Barreras said.

As the family drove back home from receiving this diagnosis, David tried cheering up the family when they saw a homeless man sitting on a patch of grass on the side of the highway.

“He tells my dad, ‘Look pops. We still have it better than this guy,’” Barreras said. “I think David has been a real encouragement to all of us, because he’s been strong.”

Lopez’s diagnosis comes after four years of other trails the family has faced, such as Lopez’s wife’s mother passing away, Lopez’s wife’s brother passing away from colon cancer, an uncle who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease and David’s brain tumor.

But optimism, faith and prayer have helped the Lopez family get through this roller coaster, St.Clair said.

This follows the slogan Lopez reminds and recites to his family daily, “The family that fights together sticks together.”

“We all have separate lives, but we all stick together when it comes to it whether it’s funerals or celebrations,” St.Clair said.

At the end of the day, all we have is friends and family, said Rose Mary Sandoval, co-coordinator of Lopez’s fundraisers.

“You got to do what you got to do to help everybody,” Sandoval said. “You got to do what you can, because one of these days it might be you.”

St.Clair agreed.

The Adelino native retired from the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility, where he was employed as a correctional officer for 25 years.

It was the place where he picked up his nickname “Partner,” which is what he used to call employees and friends since he couldn’t remember their names.

In his retirement, Lopez has filled his time with gardening, taking care of farm animals and spending time with his grandchildren, ranging in age from 22 years old to 3 weeks old, with the youngest grandchild born on his birthday.

Lopez, an Albuquerque High School graduate, attended the University of New Mexico on a football scholarship and completed a 13-month tour in Vietnam as part of the volunteer draft for the U.S. Army.

Lopez has been married to Berna for 46 years, who he has six children with, including Barreras, St.Clair, David, Arthur, John and Ray.

The Lopez’s are putting together fundraisers to raise money for transportation and lodging costs associated with Lopez’s surgery, recovery and follow up appointments across the country.

-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.