Mesothelioma Survivor Leading Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

Written by Tim Povtak

Reading Time: 5 mins
Publication Date: 09/28/2017
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family.
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Povtak, T. (2020, October 16). Mesothelioma Survivor Leading Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from


Povtak, Tim. "Mesothelioma Survivor Leading Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts.", 16 Oct 2020,


Povtak, Tim. "Mesothelioma Survivor Leading Puerto Rico Recovery Efforts." Last modified October 16, 2020.

Peritoneal mesothelioma survivor Isabel De La Camara

Isabel De La Camara has forgotten about the mesothelioma cancer brewing inside her belly.

Her concern for others — and her desire to help them — has overshadowed everything else in her life today.

De La Camara, who lives in Central Florida, has hardly slept since Hurricane Maria ripped through her beloved Puerto Rico last week, carving a horrific path of destruction that left more than 3 million people without adequate food, water and other basic necessities.

Some of her closest friends and family members are among those hit the hardest in San Juan, where she was born and raised, and one day — hopefully not too soon — will be buried, too.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the photos and hear the horror stories I’m hearing right now…just agonizing,” De La Camara told “People are suffering. My friends who have helped me through my problems, they need my help now.”

Sending Care Packages Daily

Although she has been in contact with several people living on the island — through Facebook, sparse cellphone coverage or places of worship — she still hasn’t reached others, including an elderly aunt who was living alone in the family home that was flooded.

De La Camara, 49, moved to Florida in 1993, shortly after her father, grandfather, grandmother and best friend all died within a year of each other.

Her attachment to the island, though, never has wavered. She still returns to visit regularly.

“I’m just so stressed about this now. It’s all I can think about. I want to go there so badly and try to help, but I also realize that wouldn’t be the best way for me,” she said. “My problems with mesothelioma don’t matter now, not compared to those who don’t know where their next meal will come from.”

She is spending hours soliciting donations of nonperishable food items, water, batteries, hygiene products and fans, packaging them at her home. She sends them directly to friends and family through FedEx.

Worried About the Asbestos Cleanup

De La Camara was diagnosed almost 10 years ago with peritoneal mesothelioma, which is caused by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers.

She fears her friends and family in Puerto Rico are at risk for asbestos exposure from the natural disaster.

“I also know what the cleanup there will be like and the dangers that are out there,” she said. “People need to be so careful, wear masks and protect themselves. There will be asbestos everywhere, especially around the docks and shipyards. I know that for sure. I’m proof of that.”

De La Camara believes her cancer stems from working as a supervisor at her father’s factory that made and repaired boat propellers, along with other boat motor parts.

Her father died at age 44 from lung cancer, which could have been related to the asbestos dust that still is so prevalent today in those shipyards.

“I still have my good days, and bad days, but I’ll keep fighting,” she said. “I feel a little like a burden now. Everyone here is just kind of waiting for me to die. But when I do, I know where I’m going, and I’m fine with it.”

Final Resting Place in San Juan

Camara already has her plot selected at the historic Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, where many of Puerto Rico’s most prominent people have been buried, including many of her wealthy family members.

Its oceanfront beauty has made it one of the island’s most famous landmarks and most photographed spots in San Juan.

“I’ve already told my friends here in Florida, they will have to fly to Puerto Rico to bury me,” she said. “That’s where all my ancestors are. That’s where I want my final resting place to be. And I’m excited about that.”

De La Camara already has endured five surgeries related to her cancer, including cytoreduction on her lower intestines, ovaries and pancreas, but she has bounced back every time.

Her children are now 21, 18 and 17, having grown up with cancer in their home, but with a mother who always put others before herself.

Those that know her best are not surprised at her immersion into recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Always Helping Others

She previously worked at the Christian Sharing Center in Florida and started her own Change Your Community nonprofit to help the homeless.

A devout Catholic, De La Camara taught theology at the private school where her children attended.

Although she grew up in a financially stable family, helping the poor was always important to her. As a youngster, she used to make dozens of sandwiches at her parents’ home, then walk down the street and distribute them to the less fortunate.

“Everything I’ve gone through [with cancer] is a reason to help others now,” she said. “As a kid, my mother would just shake her head when she saw what I did with those sandwiches. Social work is just in my blood.”

She believes shipping supplies directly to the people who need them the most today avoids some of the chaos that has engulfed the island.

“I’ve had a good life. Mesothelioma won’t change that,” she said. “At this point, it’s about helping others any way we can.”

paper with magnifying glass
Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get Access to Free Resources for Patients & Loved Ones