Eva Ekvall was a finalist in the Miss Universe 2001. She was 28 when she died.
In the face of a life-threatening diagnosis, Eva Ekvall, a former Miss Venezuela and fourth runner-up to Miss Universe, embarked on a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness, going from school to school, visiting a long list of organizations and making commercials exhorting women to get screened early. She wrote a book about her life, hoping it would make a difference.
Ekvall’s crusade to inform women about breast cancer was cut short when she died at the age of 28. And now her husband, radio producer John Fabio Bermúdez, is struggling to continue her legacy.
With her life ending so abruptly, her family is unsure how she should best be remembered.
“She reached many people, many young people with her story. A lot more people are more aware of cancer and cancer screening because of her. The whole country was moved by her story. She had such an impact,” Bermúdez told Fox News Latino. “Now I have to figure out how to continue what she started.”
Ekvall was 26 and a new mom when she was diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy, with a photographer chronicling every step of the process.
"I feel it’s changed my life for the better. Now I feel I have this great responsibility as a spokeswoman about this sickness that is so horrible to some," she told Fox News Latino eight months before her death. "To me...it’s been eye-opening and it’s helped me to understand who I am and where I am going."
She ended up publishing “Fuera de Foco,’’ a personal account which took readers on her excruciating yet moving journey through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.
She became Venezuela's public face of cancer, reminding people young and old that anyone could end up with cancer. It didn't discriminate, striking even the rich and the beautiful.
She wanted her book to go far, to reach outside of Venezuela. Hopefully, that can still happen.
- John Fabio Bermúdez, Eva Ekvall's husband
Months after the book was released, when her life seemed to be in an upswing, she made an alarming discovery. Despite the fact that she no longer had breasts --only a partial millimeter left of her lymph nodes-- her breast cancer had returned. And it had spread to four organs.
"The news was devastating," her husband said. "All she wanted to do was continue her message. To continue making an impact."
This time though, Ekvall was too weak to continue the work she started when she was first diagnosed.
She wanted to continue writing. This time though, she had no energy.
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"She got to write three pages from sheets she tore from a notebook. She wrote any time she felt better," Bermúdez said. "But most of the time, she was too weak to write."
Ekvall died at the Burzynski Research Institute in Houston, a facility that treats clients with advanced stages of cancer. While the facility is controversial because it uses unconventional methods to treat cancer – Ekvall refused to undergo more rounds of chemotherapy – it successfully treated a cancer survivor friend of hers, ex-Menudo member Robi Draco Rosa.
Bermúdez said his wife's cause of death was complications from pneumonia.
There is talk now of starting a foundation in Ekvall's honor, though the idea is in the early stages.
"I'm trying to restart my life now," said Bermúdez, who spent time with relatives in Florida before returning with his 2-year-old girl to Venezuela recently. "Right now I'm just concentrating on rebuilding my life."
Bermúdez said Ekvall would have wanted her work to continue. But toward the end, she was too weak to tell him how.
One thing she did want was for her book to reach the U.S. market in English.
Bermúdez said while Ekvall was in Houston, patients would inquire about her book. He said nurses would read aloud and translate it to groups who wanted to read it but couldn't comprehend Spanish.
"She wanted her book to go far, to reach outside of Venezuela," Bermúdez said. "Hopefully, that can still happen."
As for the second book, it may remain unfinished. It was cut too short, just like her life.
"I won't even try to finish it," Bermúdez said. "She was the talented one. I'm not."
Watch Ekvall during an interview with Fox News Latino
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