Jackie Martinez was eating breakfast about six weeks ago when she suddenly couldn’t see.
“Everything went white,” she said. “I reached for my coffee cup and couldn’t find it.”
Unable to walk or think clearly, she managed to call to her teenage daughter, who notified her father and brother. An emergency trip to the hospital determined she has a tumor growing on her spine, and it was putting pressure on two tumors in her brain. The 51-year-old immediately began radiation.
This is just one of several heartbreaking hands Jackie and Gil Martinez have been dealt in recent years. She has survived breast cancer three times since 2009; it now has metastasized to her brain, and she is facing two weeks of radiation.
Tragedy struck again last week when a kitchen fire partially gutted the house in MetroWest’s Westchester subdivision the Martinez family has called home since 2008. The family — Gil and Jackie and their children, 16-year-old Raquel and 22-year-old Daniel — was not home when the fire broke out; Zeus, their 6-year-old Maltese-poodle, also survived because he was away from the house getting his teeth cleaned. Another daughter lives in New York.
The kitchen and living room are a total loss, Jackie Martinez said, and smoke and water has damaged much of the rest of the house. The Martinezes are awaiting an insurance assessment and response from a restoration company. Meanwhile, the family has been staying with friends and living out of duffle bags. Their insurance company has arranged a one-week stay at a hotel on International Drive and then a monthlong stay at a local resort.
The family plans to rebuild and move back in.
“The last my husband heard, the walls have to come down and it all has to be redone inside,” Jackie Martinez said. “We don’t know the timeframe.”
She said she has been too ill to go through the house but is hoping to salvage some of her clothes and the personal mementos stored in her closet. Besides water and smoke damage, mold is another concern.
“What we have is what my kids were able to grab that day,” Jackie Martinez said. “We probably have about two or three pieces of clothing each. We have had to buy some things. I haven’t been able to go shopping, obviously, so they’ve picked up a few things for me.”
Jackie Martinez is unable to drive, so her daughter has been taking her to all her appointments. Her current treatment is 10 days of radiation on the tumor on her spine.
“The doctor’s telling me it’s not so much the size but the location; it’s very sensitive,” she said. “He said the best thing is to do radiation immediately. It seems to be pushing on some nerves that affect my legs, and I have some issues with my legs. I walk with a cane. I’m just quite a bit slower now.”
Jackie Martinez has been battling cancer since 2009, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and was in remission until 2017, when it returned. It came back again the following year and had metastasized to her brain. She already was recovering from a round of radiation when the spinal tumor was discovered.
“Jackie is the sweetest, most generous person I know, and she is a warrior,” said Debbie Calderon, a close friend of hers. “Jackie and her family are wonderful, hard-working people. She has been unable to work for the last several years, so things are always very tight financially. Now this. It’s just not fair.”
The Martinezes do not have family in the area, but they said the support from friends has been incredible.
“People have been so kind, people I don’t know,” Jackie Martinez said. “Every little bit helps. … I was telling (my family) we have to put one foot in front of the other. It’s been very difficult.”
“Jackie is exhausted mentally and physically, but her faith in God is keeping her going,” Calderon said. “This beautiful family still has so many needs.”
“I don’t even have the energy to focus on me … but if I’m not strong enough, I can’t be there for my family,” Jackie Martinez said. “I just want to be in the place where if I don’t feel well I can just lie down and relax. I have to focus on getting better, getting stronger. It’s going to be a long journey.”
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.