By Lizette Robles
You may have heard him on the mic at Miles for Moffitt or the Men’s Health Forum. Or perhaps you’ve driven past him while he was riding 300+ miles from Tampa to Tallahassee for the annual Cure on Wheels Capitol Ride. But where you haven’t seen 38-year-old Joshua Rivera recently is in his beloved Puerto Rico.
Joshua, manager of the Revenue Cycle Systems team within Moffitt’s Information Technology Department and a founding member of the Puerto Rico Advisory Council, was traveling to the island twice a year to help host cancer prevention community outreach events in San Juan. That is, until category 5 Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory in September 2017.
A contingent from Moffitt Cancer Center was scheduled to travel to Puerto Rico last fall for the biannual Conversations About Cancer event. But given the dire circumstances the island was facing, the event was postponed.
Joshua’s parents live in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, about eight miles from the capital of San Juan. Though their house was mostly spared from the wrath of the storms, they went without power for nearly 90 days.
In the weeks following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Joshua knew he had to help. He rallied his colleagues to host a massive donation drive at Moffitt, collecting thousands of pounds of food, water and supplies to send to those in need. He helped secure monetary donations from his fellow riders at Cure On Wheels.
On April 27, Joshua returned to the island for the first time since December 2016. Seeing his precious Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria proved to be an emotional experience. Before the plane touched down at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, he saw the blue tarps adorning the roofs of houses across the city. As he sat in the taxi on the way to his hotel, the destruction remained evident as downed light poles, street signs and tree debris continue to line the roads. Cracked windows and wooden boards still cover the high rises of the once pristine condominiums located in the heart of Condado Beach.
Joshua’s emotions intensified during a visit to the American Cancer Society of Puerto Rico Hope Lodge. Hearing firsthand about the struggles endured by those battling cancer during and after the storms was overwhelming.
When he was 27-years-old, Joshua was diagnosed with rare form of cancer called Ewing soft cell sarcoma. He underwent treatment for 21 months, including 1,100 hours of chemotherapy, 23 radiation treatments and six surgeries. Imagining himself in the shoes of cancer patients in Puerto Rico who were without water, food, electricity and the very medicine that would help them beat their cancer was incredibility difficult.
More than 400 cancer patients from Puerto Rico have come to Tampa seeking treatment at Moffitt since Hurricane Maria last fall. As hurricane season quickly approaches, Moffitt is working with the American Cancer Society of Puerto Rico and other community organizations to better prepare for what could happen if the island is faced with another catastrophic storm.
As for Joshua, he credits his cancer diagnosis with helping him find his purpose in life: to help others who have been affected by this horrible disease in whatever way he can; be it through fundraising, volunteering, advocacy or his actual work. Though Puerto Rico may be 1,200 miles away from Tampa, Joshua’s treasured isla del encanto is always in his heart.