For 79-year-old Maria Montes de Oca, a parishioner at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Angeles, every day is a challenge. But she faces each day with courage and great faith, according to her daughter, Maria Elena Rodriguez.

Montes de Oca was diagnosed with breast cancer more than 12 years ago and soon after went into remission. Since then the cancer has returned, more than once, and her latest relapse came in late 2013. The life-long Catholic is currently undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer, and she is doing so in typical fashion, by exhibiting her trademark strength.

“My mother has been such a blessing in my life, and she has such immense strength, strength I could never have,” Rodriguez told The Tidings. “And she is still fighting.”

Interjected the soft-spoken Montes de Oca, quietly and matter-of-factly, with a slight smile, “I have no choice but to keep fighting and praying.”

The mother and daughter were among hundreds who attended the eighth annual Pray for a Cure for Cancer Mass and Anointing of the Sick on Oct. 11 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark presided at the Mass, Cardinal Roger Mahony concelebrated, and Msgr. Lorenzo Miranda, vicar for the archdiocesan Office of Vicar for Clergy, was the homilist.

“[Cancer] is an incredible, mysterious experience, just like other difficulties that we have in life…but the encounter we have with cancer — whether we are the patient or the family — can lead us to discover, in a very profound way, the gift of faith that we have,” said Msgr. Miranda, who lost his brother to cancer. “It is incredible, if we open ourselves to God, what he can do with us in that journey with cancer. We discover the treasure that we have in our Catholic Christian faith.”

He encouraged everyone to pray for a cure for cancer, but with the reminder that “anytime we pray to God, at the end we need to say, ‘Lord, your will be done.’” 

The yearly cancer liturgy is celebrated for those seeking prayers for themselves or for someone else who has cancer. Deacon couple Mark and Vickie Race of St. Bernadette Church in South Los Angeles started the Mass after Vickie was diagnosed with breast cancer approximately a decade ago and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Together with the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, they launched the annual Mass and formed the Faith, Hope and Charity cancer ministry, which offers a support group and retreats, and individual counseling.

“My wife is a 10-year cancer survivor — but the day she was diagnosed she became new to me, she was born again in my life. It made me realize what a treasure life is,” said an emotional Mark through tears to the assembly near the close of Mass.

“Every morning when I wake up and see her it makes me realize the time we get to spend together is precious,” he continued. “That’s why we bring you together here, so you can start treasuring every single day with each other, to love one another, to look each other in the face while we are here and say good things to one another while we can hear those good things — to celebrate every single day.”