Iris’ Story: Finding Healing and Hope at Waterford Place

‘Cancer is just a word. It’s not the end’
Iris Williams finds healing and hope at Waterford Place

As a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve and a kindergarten teacher in a private school, Iris Nereida Williams led an extremely active life in Puerto Rico. Until one day “a huge pain” interfered with that life. An MRI showed a tumor as big as her stomach. She had stage 3 ovarian cancer.

She could not receive the treatment she needed in Puerto Rico, so she moved to Florida to live with her daughter. There, she had “some very hard moments,” including operations, blood infections, paralysis on her right side and blood clots.

“It’s been quite a journey,” she says. But every time her doctor asked if she wanted to live, she replied, “Yes, yes, yes.”

She stayed in Florida for about a year, hospitalized for much of that time. Then, she moved to Illinois to be with her other daughter. After seeing an oncologist at RUSH Copley Medical Center, she learned about Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center. Funded by philanthropical donations, Waterford Place provides services and support to anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, at no cost to participants. Interested in holistic therapies to help treat the side effects of her chemotherapy, she decided to try the center.


When she first went to Waterford Place, she felt a warm, caring, authentic feeling, full of peace, she remembers. Since then, she has tried everything the center offers, including exercise, reiki, acupuncture, art classes, education programs, support programs and cooking classes. 

“I’m all in it,” she says. She especially benefited from the soul tending support group which gave her the opportunity to talk to others who have gone through cancer but continue moving forward. She also appreciated being able to be vulnerable and honest and say how she felt.

More than a center

Although Iris had a wonderful support system in her family, she says the center has been a blessing in her life, and she has learned a lot from the “loving and caring” staff, providers and other participants.

“There’s always someone to talk to there,” she says. “It’s a whole lot more than a center. We’ve become good friends.” 

As her treatment continues, she is feeling stronger. Recently, she was excited to be able to drive again, buy a car and share that news with her Waterford Place family.

“They rejoiced with me,” she says. “And if you have to cry, they’ve been there, too.” Because of that, when she had to wait for results from a recent biopsy, the wait wasn’t so hard.

Although she is still in treatment, she says it’s time for her to give back, and she is working on becoming a volunteer at Waterford.

A blessing in disguise

“I’ve grown a lot, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Thanks to cancer, I’ve made amazing good friends for life. It’s a blessing in disguise,” she says. “God had scheduled this divine appointment for me to meet people I would call angels. They bring joy and excitement to my life. It’s part of my grand journey.” 

Her advice to others with cancer is to visit Waterford Place and experience it.

“Cancer is just a word,” she says. “It’s not the end. It’s just the entrance to another way of life.”

Iris is grateful to those who created Waterford Place, those who work there and all those who support it. 

“At Waterford Place, you will find healing, you will find hope,” she says. “You will find people there to walk with you, laugh with you and cry with you. It’s an amazing place.”

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