LOS LUNAS — When faced with a challenge, people may turn to a multitude of different things to cope. For Los Lunas village councilor Gino Romero, he has fixated on an optimistic attitude, his faith and his family.
Romero was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, not long after deciding to run for the village council.
“It was a readjustment in our lives, for sure,” Romero said.
Though the diagnosis came as a shock to Romero and his family, they remained hopeful.
“We looked at all the advancements in science. They’re coming so far when it comes to having successful treatments of leukemia and certain types of cancer. We called it our new normal because my energy level would forever be changed,” Romero said.
The year of 2014 was difficult for Romero for many reasons, one being that his mother passed away that same year after having lost his brother and father prior to that, and eventually his sister.
“I was the only one left in my immediate family, and that was definitely challenging. I felt lost,” Romero said.
He said the overwhelming show of generosity of his friends and community helped lift his spirits and remains something he is thankful for.
Romero felt that impact and refused to let his circumstances determine his attitude.
“It was just one of those things where I said I wouldn’t let it define me,” Romero said.
“For the most part it was out of sight, out of mind except for the chemotherapy which I had to take daily.”
In January of this year, Romero visited the dermatologist for a bump on his head that wouldn’t go away. They discovered that he had Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) which is a rare type of skin cancer which requires surgery to remove, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s a mutation of the genes and the cancer forms into tumors like sarcomas,” Romero said.
“They sent it to pathology and found out that it was cancerous. So this year has kind of been like a whirlwind. I’ve been in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices, and I think I’ve had four surgeries this year.”
Romero underwent Mohs surgery which involves removing layers of the skin with cancer and removing each layer of skin until only skin without cancer is left.
After that bump was cleared, they found another cancerous bump on top of his head and treated it with the same surgery, but was more invasive this time.
“Almost the entire top of my head was taken off — the tissue and the skin — they sanded down my skull to make sure there was no cancer on the skull,” Romero said.
He was accepted as a patient at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Az., in September and has remained there for surgery and radiation treatment.
“My family is one of my biggest motivators. I didn’t want my kids to have the experiences of a dad that was inactive and wasn’t able to play with them,” Romero said.
“I want my kids to understand that life is going to present challenges, and it’s how you deal with it that presents your character.”
Romero said he and his wife, Delfina, do their best to move their life and family forward.
“My wife is like a pillar of strength. She is unlike anybody I know. She’s just so calm, so strong, so motivated,” Romero said.
Through this whole experience, Romero has managed to stay busy with work and participating as much as he is physically able to in the Los Lunas village council. He considers himself lucky to still participate in the council and hopes to return soon.
“I’ll call in during village council workshops when I can. After the first of this year is when I’ll pick that back up a lot more and hopefully do more than I’ve been able to do,” Romero said.
He said having these distractions also helped him keep the right mind set. He said he tries to lead by example when it comes to not letting his sickness be an excuse to stop trying, which is something he teaches his children as well.
“When I focus so much on myself and the disease, that really affects me as a person. But when I focus on outside work, the distraction is very welcomed. I have to have a purpose,” Romero said.
“One of the advantages that have come out of this, is it’s forced me to open my mind and get my mind right.”
Romero has traveled back to New Mexico from Scottsdale for a few of his daughter’s Tigerettes competitions and has kept actively participating in his children’s life a priority.
Something else that inspires comfort to Romero is his faith.
“My relationship with God has become more intricate,” Romero said.
“I rely a lot on my faith. I rely on the fact that regardless of what I’m going through, this where I’m supposed to be.”
Romero said the type of leukemia he has will be something that stays with him for the rest of his life, but remains determined to not let it hinder him from living it.
“This experience has helped me to look at my life and look at my kids. It’s made me a better husband and father. It’s helped me learn more about myself.”