Arizona lawmaker diagnosed with cancer after near-death from COVID and wife’s cancer fight

Arizona Rep. Sierra was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a lengthy COVID-19 battle and his wife's own fight with cancer.
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 8:08 PM MST
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AVONDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - There’s no easy way for any family to deal with cancer. But one Arizona representative and his wife have had more than their fair share of near-death illnesses and now find themselves facing a new challenge they didn’t expect. They hope their harrowing story can remind everyone not to skip health checks but also that no matter the challenge, you can still find joy.

Their love story began more than a decade ago. “We’ve been married, this will be year 12,” said Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, a Democrat from Avondale. Sierra affectionately calls himself Rhonda Cagle’s “rescue husband.” “I lost my husband to cancer, pancreatic cancer, in 2007,” said Cagle.

Her loss prepared her to help Sierra through their first hurdle together right after their wedding. “My mom was diagnosed with cancer and died from cancer,” said Sierra.

The two learned quickly how to comfort one another with loss, not knowing that “through sickness and in health” would soon impact each other, too. In 2016, Cagle was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

She underwent eight rounds of chemo, a mastectomy, 28 rounds of radiation, and more than a dozen surgeries. “The treatment caused the blood flow to both hips to die, so I was looking at having double hip replacement surgery in the middle of COVID,” said Cagle.

But life had a change of plans for them. Worried Cagle would be most at risk with COVID-19 due to her health, they did everything they could to avoid the illness. “The truth is, it was Lorenzo who really got the brunt of it,” said Cagle.

In October 2020, Sierra was intubated in the hospital for days, on the brink of death, and even then, only focused on getting back to his family. “I had four different IV lines going in, I had a feeding tube,” said Sierra. “You’re not coming home today; you’re going to be in the hospital for a bit.” “We cannot lose another husband, we cannot lost another dad, we just can’t,” said Cagle.

Doctors said he made a miraculous recovery, though he had to relearn how to walk and eat. He returned to the Legislature, but due to a busy and stressful session, he hadn’t been as diligent about his checkups. So, when he started feeling off this past November, he went and got tests and an MRI in December. “We did a biopsy and learned I had prostate cancer,” Sierra said.

Sierra and Cagle could sit here and say, “Why is this happening to us again?” But they don’t. They share their pain and journey to encourage others who might be putting off health checks to get them done, but more than that, they choose to find joy in each day. “I don’t know I’d get through what I’ve been through without her,” said Sierra.

Their story is one of second chances, a second chance at life, and more importantly, a second chance at love. “The fact that we get to do it together. I found love after losing a husband that I adored. There’s always something just around the corner,” said Cagle.

Sierra is finishing up his term as a representative next week. He has another biopsy in May and will start treatment for his cancer. Cagle eventually got the double hip replacement she needed and is extremely happy to report she is cancer-free.