Alais Salvador was diagnosed with Stage 3B brain cancer in 2009 but was considered in remission after two successful surgeries. Her daughters were 9 and 4 at the time and she was relieved to know she would live to see them grow up.
In 2018, the Winter Garden resident received news that the tumor had returned — again, Stage 3B. It was treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. A year later, she was diagnosed with Stage 3B cancer of the colon. This June, doctors told her she had Stage 1 lung cancer, which was treated with surgery. All have been unrelated, she said, which is a blessing.
Once again, she has beaten the disease — choosing to remain positive and putting all her trust in God.
“I have believed in God, but I think (the diagnoses) drew me closer to Him, and so it’s kind of just given me peace, believing and realizing that He is God and He can do miracles — and I feel like that is what he has done for me,” Salvador said. “He has given me healing and a blessing in my life that I can share with other people.”
“I attribute my attitude to my faith in God, which has given me a positive outlook. I know that He got me through these storms in my life, and I give Him praise every day for the miracle of His healing.”
— Alais Salvador, four-time cancer survivor
Salvador also stays motivated by her girls, Faith, now 21, and Mya, 17, and her husband of 28 years, Mark.
“I love them with all of my heart,” she said. “My girls have grown up with their mom having cancer. I hope that I have been a great role model for them, to be positive no matter what you are facing, and He will get you through it. I am so blessed to be with my girls as they are growing up and getting to spend more time with my husband. My husband, along with my parents, Deni and Mike Foley, were my caregivers and my rocks. I also had several friends who drove me to my appointments over the years.
“I am thankful to all of these people, as I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “I have always stayed positive, as I feel like God has made me into a stronger person because of these illnesses. I am very blessed to be here with my family. I am truly blessed and also thankful to all of my prayer warriors.
FROM EMPLOYEE TO VOLUNTEER
Salvador said she was devastated when she had to quit her job at Walt Disney World because she went on disability leave. The Mouse had been a big part of her life since she was in the Disney College Program. She also worked at the concierge at Disney’s Dolphin hotel and was a casting agent/employment assistant in Disney’s casting center. She held an administrative assistant’s role at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well.
Salvador needed something to occupy her time since she couldn’t work, so she concentrated more on volunteering her time to help others. Volunteerism has been part of her life for a long time. She ended up working with Child Keepers of Louisiana after she thought she recognized a missing child and called the hotline. Her first paid position was with March of Dimes in Louisiana.
“My minor was in social work, so it was a part of me,” she said.
Salvador has co-led the Southeastern Food Bank’s Food for Families — from warehouse setup to boxing food items for local needy families — since 2008, although the pandemic and her bouts with cancer has prevented her from volunteering consistently.
She co-led an American Cancer Society/West Orange Relay for Life team from 2008 to 2010 before it became Relay for Life of Winter Garden. She ran several committees and handled the luminaria ceremony for three years.
“I was very involved with Relay for Life because I have around 19 friends and family who have passed from cancer, are still fighting and are survivors,” Salvador said. “This became an online event, which I have participated in during Covid, and it is still being held virtually.”
She has been involved in Mosaic Church’s Buddy Break for four years. The Saturday program gives special-needs children, called VIPs, a place for them to engage in activities so their parents can have a few hours to themselves.
Salvador signed up to do behind-the-scenes work on the overall volunteer plan for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games but had to pause because of the lung cancer. She said she hopes to resume the work in January.
“I feel like volunteering comes natural to me, as I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager,” Salvador said. “I love knowing that I’m giving back and serving others. My family has also volunteered with me on a few (events). My friends have helped me with these events as well as others.”
Salvador said she is motivated by her family and friends and she is thankful for her husband’s and parents’ constant caregiving.
“They were my rocks,” she said.
Cancer has claimed so many of Salvador’s family and friends. She has lost two grandmothers, a grandfather, an aunt and other relatives; she had to say goodbye to a friend, Jimmy Crabtree; and her husband’s best friend in childhood, Dean Poroch, died of cancer.
Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, so Salvador is a patient in a high-risk breast-care clinic as well.
“I continue to have regular scans for all of these cancers,” she said. “I will do scans every six months of my brain, pelvis, abdomen, lung and breasts.”
Salvador always wears three bracelets on her arm: a silver one with the word “survivor”; a small silver one with “survivor” written in Braille; and one that is gray, blue and white to represent the colors of her three cancers.
Receiving four cancer diagnoses has been difficult for Salvador and her family.
“I got it all out – I cried – and we moved on,” she said. “I can’t change it. I can’t change what it is. It’s going to be what it is. I just have to have a positive attitude and fight it.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.