Carved mesquite wine stoppers, a shotgun and beef jerky: ancillary objects that don’t mean much to many, but for one San Angelo family could mean the difference between a light bill and lights out.
With steak and chicken fajita plates, an auction and a bake sale scheduled for a four-hour Saturday benefit at the Holy Angels Parish, a local Knights of Columbus chapter hopes to make just that difference for one of their long-time members, who has been struggling with colon cancer for the past two years.
Known among friends as the man with the unfading smile, Daniel Lara wasn’t too keen on asking the community to help him out, despite having helped his brothers do the same for countless others over his 20+ year membership. Absent much of a choice, the conglomerate fundraiser will take place on Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Parish.
“When I first talked to him about it, he wasn’t too enthused about it,” said Oscar Hinojosa, a Knights of Columbus member who is assisting in organizing the event. “He didn’t want us to do it, but with the guys that were around us—the brother knights—we said, ‘we’re going to do it whether you want it or not’. Then he kind of said, ‘Ok, that’s fine. Go ahead and do it’. He didn’t want the help.”
Even after the flyers were printed and plans were set in motion, Lara remained humble about the benefit scheduled to raise funds for his medical expenses.
“I told them I didn’t really need it, but in a way I do,” he said quietly.
Over the phone, Lara’s voice is strong, his spirits high. He doesn’t always feel this way, he admits, but tries to remain positive and appreciative of the life he’s still got. Surrounded by a wife and three grandchildren at home and his brothers at church, Lara says the cancer has taught him to be thankful for every moment and friends remain impressed by his sunny disposition.
"He’s always been an upbeat guy. He’s always been very friendly, very cordial. He seems to be always interested in other people, just a real friendly guy,” says Donald Piwonka, one of the knights aiding with the auction. “He always asks about the kids, that kind of thing. He was always happy, he was always in good spirits whenever you saw him. Even with this thing, he tries to stay upbeat.”
Lara was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 in San Angelo, following a colonoscopy that brought back the harrowing results. He immediately began chemo and radiation, he said, traveling back and forth to Houston for rounds of treatment while completing others here locally.
In May 2013, Lara’s colon was removed, however doctors quickly discovered multiple other tumors that would need to be treated before they spread.
“This last time I went to M.D. Anderson I got a good report that they were shrinking, but there’s no telling how long this chemo is going to work on it,” Lara said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. I have to finish my chemo. This session of chemo will finish probably the first weekend in October.”
Years before his diagnosis, Lara enjoyed a career as a mechanic at Jim Bass Ford. When he began chemotherapy and began to feel the side effects however, he wasn’t able to do much of the physical work that had been a routine part of his life.
“The second chemo I was taking affected my fingers,” he explained. “They feel numb and tingly, can’t feel them sometimes. Same thing with my toes and the bottom of my feet. This other chemo that I’m taking right now is drying my hands and the bottom of my feet. They start cracking and bleeding a little bit, but I’m taking some creams to take care of that.”
Currently, Lara is a technician at Mitchell Buick GMC. He can’t work as much as he used to and his community involvement has slowed, too, but the support of his wife and family have helped keep him positive and fighting for recovery.
“It bothered him at the beginning, but he’s got that good disposition that if that’s what the Lord wants, then that’s what’s going to go,” Hinojosa said. “He’s got a grandson that he’s very loyal to...he means the world to him. He’s trying to live as long as he can to be around his grandson.”
“My wife is real supportive and real helpful,” Lara added. “She’s been with me through those chemo treatments and when she can’t make it, I’ve got a granddaughter assisting me or a sister-in-law. They’re real supportive with me.”
Compelled to help their own as he has helped others, Hinojosa and Piwonka began planning the fundraiser. They hope they will be able to raise a substantial amount of money to help the family with exhaustive medical expenses, and are looking forward to seeing the community turn out for a good cause.
“He’s a very giving person, I mean, he’ll give the shirt off his back if he can,” Hinojosa said. “He goes out as much as he can to help, but the chemo takes a lot out of him. He’s still the same person and he’ll go out and help as much as he can when he can. He’s got a lot of faith. Any donations you can give, we’d be grateful.”
The fajita dinner, bake sale and auction will take place on Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Holy Angels Parish, located at 2309 A&M.