By Jennifer Torres
For Al Día Today
MELBOURNE – When she was a young girl growing up in Cuba, Marta Fiol dreamed of one thing – becoming like Mother Teresa, and for the many people whose lives Fiol has touched over the years since, most would say her dream came true.
As a long-time volunteer with the Cancer Care Foundation, and the marketing manager for Cancer Care Centers of Brevard (CCCB), Fiol refers to herself as a “professional beggar, who begs for the patients who have nothing.”
“She truly is our Mother Teresa as most of the employees at CCCB refer to her,” said Gail Erentreich, a practice manager and coworker. “Marta is so passionate about getting help for patients and making sure they get what they need for their cancer treatment.”
Cancer Care Centers of Brevard was founded by Dr. Silas Charles, M.D, a Radiation Oncologist. In 1993, the Foundation received its nonprofit status and Fiol has become one of the most recognizable and active volunteers there ever since.
“I did want to follow in the steps of Mother Teresa, which I was able to do in a very small way by working for Dr. Silas Charles and having the privilege to go to India, twice,” Fiol said.
In 1985, Fiol visited Calcutta and saw every sector of Mother Teresa’s work; the dying house, the orphanage, hospital, and the daily feedings of over 3000 people that for most was their only meal of the day.
Fiol also went with Dr. Charles’ to his hometown in Andhra Pradesh, Kakinada in south India where they started the Christian Cancer Center, a 50 bed multi-specialty hospital, Leprosy and Aids Mission, and Hope Village which houses girls and boys who attend school and learn trades.
“You have heard the phrase, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,’ this is our mission,” Fiol said.
As a breast cancer survivor of more than two decades herself, Fiol says she can truly relate to all the emotions a cancer patient experiences.
“For the foundation, my main focus is to let people know that they are not alone in this, through our events and through the support groups available to them,” Fiol said. “The best part of the job is being able to help cancer patients at the worse time of their life, diagnosis and treatment.”
The foundation works to relieve some of the financial pressure many families experience. Volunteers raise money though fundraisers like the annual Caring Hearts event, now in its 11th year.
“I guess the worst part is how this dreaded disease will totally destroy families,” Fiol said. “Not just financially, but mentally, physically and psychologically.”
This year’s event, hosted on April 20, raised nearly $200,000. The foundation’s monthly budget to assist patients is $14,000, which gives them the ability to pay for patients rent, mortgage, and utilities, as well as pain and cancer related medications.
On any given day, Fiol can be found fundraising, party planning, doing public speaking, and visiting with patients and their families in Brevard County. But she vividly remembers her days as a child in Cuba.
“I was blessed to have a wonderful childhood with lots of family gatherings,” Fiol said. “Even though later on I found out that our families were high officials in the government, we were raised to help, care and be kind to everyone. We had the best parents ever.”
At just 12-years-old, life took a scary turn for Fiol when Fidel Castro brought his militia into Havana.
Aligned with the Batista government, her family was forced to seek asylum in the Chile Embassy.
“That first awakening was filled with terror,” Fiol said. “At the embassy, we were given mattresses to lie on the floor and mom told us not to get up as the bullets would kill us.”
In that moment she chose instead to kneel – and pray.
Things got worse before they got better when the ambassador, who Fiol said wanted the shooting stopped, gathered all the women and children to the courtyard. When they got there, Castro’s militia were pointing their guns directly at them.
“The ambassador told them “if you want to kill the men inside the embassy, you have to kill the women and children first,” Fiol said. “I remember making eye contact with one of Castro’s militia, he had beautiful green eyes and he started to lower his gun and the rest followed. That militia man saved our lives and I will never forget his kind green eyes.”
The family eventually made it safely to the Miami area in 1959, where Fiol attended Coral Gables High and Charron Williams Commercial College.
“Our parents always taught us to love this country that had embraced us and saved our lives. Fiol said.
Fiol met her husband Juan at a party in Miami Beach when both were just 17.
“We wanted to get married right away but my dad would not have it until we finished our studies, so got married at 22 and moved to Melbourne since Juan got a scholarship at FIT in Oceanography and I started working at Brevard Hospital.”
Just last year, a health scare hit close to home once again when Juan complained of excruciating neck pain. His doctor found a tumor pressing on his cervical spine.
“Thank God it was benign,” Fiol said. “He is good as new and working out, and hunting as usual.”
The couple has two children, Marta “Tiki” Fiol, and Juan (Tres) Fiol III, as well as four grandchildren.
Growing up in America didn’t stop the family from keeping certain traditions like celebrating Nocebuena (Christmas Eve) in grand style. A tradition she continues to this day.
“We celebrate this bigger than the actual 25th morning and the family has the typical Cuban lechon, (port), rice, beans and all the trimmings, and we open the presents then,” Fiol said. “Our grandchildren get the best of both worlds as they get them on the 24th and Christmas morning.”
Fiol also loves to cook traditional favorites like Guava Squares, a pastry filled with guava paste.
“I know I will win the Pillsbury contest in the not too far distant future with this recipe,” she said with a laugh.
Gail Erentreich doesn’t doubt that Fiol can do anything she sets her mind to.
“Marta is the kindest person I know, she turns everything into a positive and I praise her good nature; she will do anything for anyone at any time,” she said. “I have known Marta for about 25 years and the pleasure that I have seen her bring to others is commendable.”
Longtime friend Dawn Artz agrees.
“She would do anything for a friend,” Artz said. “What’s funny is the way she tells a story, which has everyone laughing to tears.”
With inspiration from her role model, Mother Teresa, Fiol took her vows as a lay nun with the Discalced Carmelites.
“I took my Vows a few years back and took the name of Marta Anthony, as I love the story of St. Anthony,” Fiol said. “It’s teachings help me to maintain that the unconditional love that God has for each and every one of us, no matter where they are from or what their belief is should always be forefront in everything that I do and bring to everyone I meet, not with words, but with my actions.”