Elevate Salon helped prepare Grace Diaz for her cancer journey

Patient Grace Diaz poses to celebrate the Elevate Salon

"The best place to get your treatment is here at Roswell Park"

"Spend just one day with us” – the call-to-action for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center – is exactly what someone newly diagnosed with cancer should do, advises Grace Diaz. Diagnosed in August 2022 with squamous small cell lung cancer, she knew right away she would be coming to Roswell Park for her therapy.

“By the time you’re finished, you’re gonna say, ‘Ok, I want to get treated here,’” she says. “It doesn’t matter the cancer, everything’s here. And I can’t say enough about the support system, staff and doctors. The best place to get your cancer treatment is here at Roswell Park.”

Grace was born in Puerto Rico, came to Buffalo when she was seven and considers herself a Queen City native. Married 43 years to her childhood sweetheart Felix, a career military man, she spent more than 20 years living on military bases before returning home to the city in 2005.

“I loved England,” she reminisces about the many places she and Felix were stationed across the U.S. and abroad. “The people were very friendly, and we made really good friends. I like history, and I spent four years there visiting historical sites.” She remembers fondly seeing the marvelous Victorian style dollhouse-to-die-for at Windsor Castle in Berkshire. Her hobbies include reading, painting-by-number and watching old movies -- Gone with the Wind is her favorite, mostly because of the costuming. “I’m always trying to find retro clothes,” she confesses. “They’re wearing bellbottoms and platforms again. I should have saved them all when I had them.”

After Felix retired, the two lived in Philadelphia with their two sons before deciding to move back to Buffalo to be closer to their large families. Grace has three sisters and two surviving brothers (another brother, a 9/11 and Afghanistan veteran, died of leukemia in 2016), 18 nieces and nephews and two grandchildren.

Covid infection revealed obstruction in her lung

Grace and Felix had been enjoying their Golden Years when she contracted Covid in March 2022. “I was in the hospital for a while,” Grace says. “They found I had a mucus plug and that was one of the problems I was having with my breathing.” Doctors were unable to remove the obstruction because it would have further compromised her health: She is diabetic and has managed COPD and asthma well for years. “They put me on steroids, and I was using an oxygen machine and I was doing fine,” she explains of her Covid experience.

But on a camping trip a few months after leaving the hospital, Grace told Felix she wasn’t doing fine and couldn’t breathe. Her husband and sister rushed her first back home, then to a Buffalo hospital where she lapsed into critical condition. At a second hospital, a biopsy on the mucus plug came back positive for cancer and she decided to come to Roswell Park to be treated. “When we went to see the surgeon, I decided this is where I wanted my cancer treatment,” Grace says. Her brother and sister’s husband’s parents have cancer and were treated well at Roswell Park. “Roswell Park deals with just one thing, cancer. Other hospitals deal with so much. To me, coming to a place where that’s all they do was better for me because they know exactly what to do and they’ve proven themselves. That was my big thing. I knew that here I was going to get the help I wanted,” she says.

“They take their time. They listen to me. Everybody is so professional and still makes you feel like everything is gonna be okay, I can fight this. Which I think is one of the hardest things, trying to fight it.”

Elevate Salon at Roswell Park

“At Elevate Salon, we provide a respite for patients where they can feel comfortable and understood in an uplifting environment.” Visit us on the first floor of the Clinical Sciences Center, next to the Breast Oncology Center.

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Elevate salon helped her prepare for and cope with hair loss

She underwent outpatient chemotherapy from September to December of last year. But before beginning treatment, she visited Roswell Park’s Elevate Salon to have her thick locks shaved off. “I told my husband that if I leave my hair down, and then I start losing it, I’m going to have a meltdown,” she remembers, then laughs. “When I didn’t have any hair, my husband was, like, ‘You’ve got a good head for being bald!’”

Throughout her treatment, Elevate Salon provided Grace with hats, headwraps and other resources to help her manage some of the challenges that come with a cancer diagnosis, maintain a positive outlook (and look), and feel more like herself. Roswell Park is able to offer these compassionate services at the Elevate Salon thanks to generous donor funding which provided for the renovated space in 2022. 

Now sporting a curly-cropped hairstyle, Grace is continuing her treatment at Roswell Park. She anticipates that her upcoming PET scan will result in a combination of chemotherapy and radiation to avoid surgery which, with her underlying health conditions, is still too risky.

She thanks her team of doctors — medical oncologist Grace Dy, MD, radiation oncologist Nadia Malik, MD, and thoracic surgeon Todd Demmy, MD — for creating a care plan tailored to her individual needs. “With my breathing, if they take a lobe of the lung, Dr. Demmy didn’t feel it was safe,” she says, adding that most doctors would have been prepping her for surgery.

“That was one of my biggest things. I didn’t want surgery if I could do the radiation and that would help.”

When asked the one thing she wants people to know about Roswell Park, Grace circles back to her original advice — to “spend just one day with us” if you are diagnosed with cancer.

“Anywhere you go, for X-rays, tests, whatever, they provide good support because they talk to you. They explain what they’re going to do, which is nice,” she says. "It seems like everybody’s smiling, which I really believe that when you have cancer, you need that.”

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.