"For somebody to tell you you're not going to be there for your babies, I can't accept that," Giulianna Ramirez says.

By Joelle Goldstein
July 01, 2020
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Giulianna Ramirez with her two children
GoFundMe

A single mother of three is refusing to give up after learning that her recent diagnosis of colon cancer has progressed into a terminal case — leaving her with a heartbreaking projection of two years to live.

"My life has been completely turned upside down in less than a month," Giulianna Ramirez, 39, tells PEOPLE.

The former model had been focused on raising her three children — sons Cedric, 17, and Cruz, 1, and daughter, Gianna, 3 — in Florida, but at the beginning of June, doctors diagnosed her with colon cancer. About a week later, she learned that the cancer had spread throughout her body, leading to a stage four terminal diagnosis.

"For somebody to tell you you're not going to be there for your babies, it's not in the cards for me," she says. "I can't accept that."

Ramirez says she was "so healthy" — a frequent runner who followed a plant-based diet.

"I had no symptoms except for one month prior to the colonoscopy, I was feeling like something was off because my bowel movements had blood in it," she explains. "I just had a baby a year before, so I thought, 'If anything, they would know [about the cancer] when they were checking me [during my pregnancy].' "

After learning she had colon cancer in early June, Ramirez admits she didn't go into panic mode because doctors reassured her that it would be curable.

"They kept saying, 'Don’t worry, you're young, we just have to remove it,' " recalls Ramirez. "I remember thinking in my head, 'Okay, I have this tumor I didn't know about. It's scary because it's cancer, but thank God they caught it and are gonna take it out. I can't afford to be sick because no one is with my babies.' "

Just four days before her surgery on June 18, Ramirez started experiencing severe pain and went to the emergency room at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.

There alone, due to the hospital's coronavirus restrictions, she underwent further tests and a CT scan before doctors confirmed the worst: the cancer had spread to her liver, lungs, pelvic area and most likely her lymph nodes — she was stage 4 terminal.

"The doctor came back and he was literally in tears — I've never seen a doctor cry for a patient in my personal experience — and he said, 'I'm so sorry... but the cancer is really major,' " she recalls. "I was broken... I was on my knees in my room for an hour begging God, asking 'Why me?' "

Giulianna Ramirez with her children
GoFundMe

Though doctors wanted to perform the surgery immediately, Ramirez says she opted to go home first so she could spend time with her kids "before something happens, because I thought I was gonna die."

She eventually had the procedure done, but just four days later, she returned to the hospital with more pain.

This time, Ramirez learned that there was an obstruction in her liver that was preventing the organ from draining into her intestines — a condition that required surgery, yet again.

"Every time the doctors came back, it was a death sentence," she says, noting that things have been even more challenging because the coronavirus pandemic has prevented her friends and loved ones from comforting her at the hospital.

"In the painful stages, I had no one to hold me up, no one's hand to hold, and no one to tell me it's gonna be okay," she explains. "The doctors and nurses are great, but they don’t know me. It's incredibly lonely and scary... it's been really, really hard."

Because her most recent surgery was on June 26 and her body needs time to heal, Ramirez says she has to wait four weeks until she can see an oncologist and receive treatment options.

Those options will likely include radiation and chemotherapy, which doctors believe would give Ramirez a maximum of two years to live — a prognosis that she refuses to accept.

"I just don't think that's okay. I'm 1,000 percent gonna fight and can't accept that," she says. "I want to be a miracle and I know that I'm going to be one because my kids need me, and I don't think God would give me them and then just leave them."

To help Ramirez with medical expenses, as well as other living costs for her children, a GoFundMe page has been set up by her friends. In just 16 days, the fundraiser has brought in over $142,000 — something Ramirez says makes her feel "humbled."

"To see how rapidly people's hearts went towards me, it's unbelievable," she says.

As she awaits her next oncologist appointment, Ramirez says she's been leaning on her faith and her children to help her get through these uncertain times and tough days.

"With God, I believe he's with me and in control," she says. "At night I can't sleep. I have so many thoughts and so many what ifs. It's not easy... but I have to do it for my children, and for others, so that they may never have to go through this."

She also hopes her story will encourage others to be proactive about their own health and regularly have colonoscopies before the recommended age of 50.

"I think it's something that should be changed and not taken lightly. If I had to do it all over again, hands down, I would've checked at 20, I would've checked at 30," she says. "If I can help anybody, even one person to not have to go through this, that would be a win for me."

"I just wanna do my part — not be scared, really be strong, and know that I'm gonna fight," adds Ramirez. "I'm a single mom, I'm proud of who I am and proud of who I am becoming, I know that I've gone through so much, and my situation may be super, super bad and challenging, but cancer's not gonna be the end of me."

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This Story Originally Appeared On people