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A mother of six diagnosed with cancer earlier this year had to make a decision to either return to her native Mexico for treatment or stay in North Carolina and fight a deportation order after living illegally in the U.S. for eight years.
But what Norma Ramírez couldn't foresee was the outpouring of support by the Mexican consulate in Raleigh and many other North Carolinians.
I wanted my daughters to see me well, not lying on a bed, so I asked the consulate for help in getting back.
Ramírez, 33, was diagnosed with a malignant growth on her urethra in January at WakeMed Hospital after undergoing several medical procedures. If she continued to receive treatment in the U.S., she faced being arrested and deported -- leaving her two young U.S.-born children behind.
"When the hospital's translator explained what the doctor had said, I decided I didn't want to stay here because my children would have to return to Mexico by themselves if something happened to me," said Ramírez, whose U.S.-born children are 4 and 5 years old.
Yet if she returned to Mexico, she didn't know where she'd receive medical treatment.
Ramírez said she also thought of the four daughters she left behind in Mexico under the care of her mother.
"I wanted my daughters to see me well, not lying on a bed, so I asked the consulate for help in getting back," said Ramírez, who is originally from Guerrero state.
The Mexican consulate in Raleigh offered to pay for the woman and her children to return to her native country and for treatment in a hospital in Acapulco, said Selene Barcelo, the deputy consul in Raleigh.
All treatments, services and medications will be paid for by state insurance provided through the Mexican government, Barcelo said.
Through its legal assistance program, the consulate also hired a lawyer to fight the deportation order.
Ramírez had until March 9 to leave the country after being arrested in August of last year for driving with an expired license. She also had an outstanding warrant for failing to pay a speeding ticket issued in 2009 in Greensboro.
The local Spanish-language weekly, Que Pasa, reported on Ramírez's case. Lawyers, priests and dozens of strangers called and visited to offer their help.
"So many people came to see me when I was in the hospital, people from Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Durham ... people from other states and even people from my hometown in Mexico, who learned about my illness by watching the news," she said.
Among these "angels," as she called them, were her friends Oneida Cristobal and Sotero RDios. Rios was a childhood friend; she had worked with Cristobal.
Cristobal stayed with her at Raleigh's WakeMed Hospital, where Ramírez spent several weeks, and distributed donation boxes at Hispanic-owned stores in the area to help pay for her expenses. Rios stayed with Ramírez at night and holds power of attorney for her. Rios said she would follow Ramírez to Mexico.
Ramírez arrived in Acapulco with her children April 16 and checked into Acapulco's Cancer Institute. She still has many treatments ahead because the cancer has spread to other organs.
"I feel well now," she said. "I was greeted very nicely. I didn't expect to see so many people. Even my mom and dad were there."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.