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Courtesy Lissette Garcia Before cancer - Lissette, Christine Angeles, Cristalee Amber and Pablo Garcia Courtesy Lissette Garcia

A Master of Survival Helps Others Fight the Big C

“I never asked, ‘Why me?’” explained Lissette Garcia, who by any account could have been allowed some self-pity.

The eldest daughter of a Dominican immigrant father and the youngest of a Nicaraguan-born mother, who split up when she was nine, Garcia epitomizes self-determination. Despite long-odds, she earned a full scholarship to St. Francis Prep, became the first member of her family to receive a college degree, and started her own business while raising two daughters and holding down a day job. She has also beaten non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects around 20 of every 100,000 Americans.

This Saturday, November 17th, the overachiever is giving back, hosting a fundraiser at South 4th Street’s Bar Celona to benefit Gilda’s Club, an organization that provides social and emotional support to cancer victims (its namesake, Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, passed away from ovarian cancer in 1989). The event will also feature the introduction of a new line of handbags for Cosy Corporation, the direct sales jewelry and apparel company Garcia founded in July 2008.

“I see two of my dreams becoming a reality,” she said about the event, at which she will help families overcome financial stress while battling cancer. When her illness was diagnosed in 2010, she discovered that her insurance would only pay for 80% of the costly treatment. Worse, she could not pay the balance. During those trying times, husband Pablo Garcia reached out to several non-profits that support cancer patients and was able to secure funding from the HealthWell Foundation to pay the balance.

She’ll also be taking a step forward in the business she learned from her parents. A percentage of each handbag sale will go to Gilda’s Club. Funds will also be raised by selling raffle tickets for donated prizes such as 200 cupcakes, Broadway tickets and even free teeth whitening.

The Brooklyn-born Garcia, now a resident of New Jersey, chose the Southside bar for the fundraiser because she wanted to bring her business back to the borough that raised her. She developed her tireless work ethic here watching her parents work at the jewelry business mom Maria started in 1978 (dad Rafael left his factory job in 1983 to help). After their split Maria went on to become a partner in both a curtain and bedspread factory and a Dominican restaurant in East New York – Esperanza.

As she struggled to make ends meet, Maria often spoke to her daughter about the possibility of moving in with family in Florida. Driven by her desire to remain in the City, Lissette became an A student, working through junior high and high school to become financially independent. Today, she still works two jobs, her “day job” at Central Parking System and at Cosy, which she hopes will one day earn enough to allow her to dedicate herself full-time.

Garcia believes good things come of hard work, and has successfully applied that principle to every aspect of her life, including this weekend’s event, for which she recruited around 20 sponsors.

“Many blessings came out of [the cancer],” Garcia said. For the first time, the 34 year old, who has worked almost her entire life, was forced to slow down and “had a lot of time to see things in a different light. My biggest concern was my girls. [The cancer] gave me the opportunity to see that they were taken care of and to see how great a father my husband was for them.”

And while Garcia’s family and faith have played large roles in her recovery, it was the outpouring of support from sponsors that left her clearly moved. “It goes to show the heart that we as human beings have.”

Let’s Get Cosy for Gilda’s Club
Saturday, November 17th – 6:00PM – 10:00PM
Bar Celona
104 South 4th Street

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