SCHERTZ — When it comes to confronting adversity, Raquel Gutierrez is not one to give up, nor slow down.
She keeps busy and stays positive despite being diagnosed twice with cancer, just a year apart.
“I tell the doctors to tell me what to do because I’m very pragmatic that way,” said the woman recently named 2017 Volunteer of the Year by the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. “This is a problem. I can solve it, but if I can’t solve it, tell me what we need to do.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an observance not lost on Gutierrez, who learned in 2010 she had breast cancer, and in 2011, thyroid cancer.
Now with both in remission, Gutierrez continues concentrating on giving back to the community as a Schertz Area Senior Center volunteer, a full-time commitment she pledged to maintain while undergoing treatment.
“I started seeing how there’s a need to advocate for people,” said Gutierrez, the wife of Councilman Ralph Gutierrez. “I have that passion for helping the underdog. It comes easy to me.”
This past June, the 50-something helper was shocked to learn of her commendation.
“I didn’t know anybody was watching,” Gutierrez said. “I’m totally humbled, but (volunteering) is what I do. I don’t do it for recognition. I do it because, at the end of the day, it feels right. It’s part of everyday living.”
Friends and neighbors are not surprised by Gutierrez’s can-do spirit.
Senior-center member Cecily Adger said Gutierrez never wavers in her dedication to help the elderly with various projects.
“I know she organized for people to serve the seniors during (the center’s) Christmas dinner,” Adger said. “I think she took a couple of them who didn’t have rides back at home. I don’t think I have ever seen that woman without a smile on her face.”
Adger added, “Anybody that comes into the gym, she introduces them to people and tells them what’s available as far as different classes (offered at the center). She rubs off on people.”
Inge Brunner considers Gutierrez “one of my dearest friends.”
Gutierrez arranged for construction professionals to renovate her home, she said.
“When I needed help with the house, she gets two people to do the job, and not only does she get a job for them, but she makes sure they do it right,” Brunner said. “(Gutierrez) is a wonderful, caring person.”
Although the former cosmetics account executive admits to being a “high-maintenance” person at one point in her life, community involvement has brought her full circle.
“When I think back, I was so into myself that I didn’t think about anyone else,” she said. “It’s not that way anymore. We need to be there for people and learn that other people have emotions and feelings. At the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do to give back.”
Gutierrez encourages cancer victims to maintain focus and “fight the fight.”
“That’s all you can do because (cancer) is out of your control,” she said. “You have to stay strong and keep the faith. … (Cancer) is a very foreign feeling, and people are like, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore; I give up.’”
One person’s refusal to surrender, however, can inspire others, she said.
“Somebody said to me, ‘Raquel, you’re a warrior. You just keep moving forward; you don’t slow down,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I am a warrior because I have to be an example to those women who come after me and those who came before me.’ (Cancer) can be fought.”