Yesenia Pena

Recovering from cancer—and a bout of COVID-19—Yesenia Pena gained a newfound appreciation of the support she receives from her 1199SEIU Funds.

Since emigrating from Mexico to the Bronx 25 years ago, Yesenia Pena has always been a hard worker. In fact, for years she held two full-time jobs as a Nursing Assistant at both the Glen Island Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New Rochelle and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan—all while raising her three children, Camilla, Emily and Matthew. In 2015, she became a Patient Care Technician at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. Before she began her new job, Yesenia recalled something her friends and coworkers had told her: “They said, ‘Don’t you dare leave your 1199SEIU benefits.’ That was good advice!”

Two years ago, Yesenia began to feel pain in the back of her neck, and an MRI revealed she had thyroid cancer. Radiation treatments helped her cancer go into remission, but she was concerned about the costs of continuing those treatments. The Funds put her fears to rest. “They said, don’t worry— they took care of my bills,” she recalled. “I was so worried about costs, but I didn’t pay a penny!” Now, her health benefits cover the yearly radiation treatments and medication she needs to help her remain in remission.

Despite her own health concerns, Yesenia continued working during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You didn’t have time to cry some days,” she recalled. Yesenia contracted the virus herself, suffering from a fever, a severe cough, and a loss of taste and smell, and she even spent a day in the emergency room receiving supplemental oxygen. But she recovered and was soon back on the job, committed to helping her patients, including using her Spanish language skills to comfort those who didn’t speak English. “I’m so glad I was able to be there,” she said, “and help patients feel more comfortable by speaking to them in their language.”

My 1199SEIU benefits really have been good to me. I’m so thankful for them!

Yesenia Pena

Nursing Assistant, Glen Island Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New Rochelle and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan

Yesenia is working hard now on improving her overall health. She’s eating more vegetables, while cutting back on bread and rice—former staples in her diet—and substituting fish or chicken for pork. She’s also discovered a cucumber-and-lime health shake she drinks twice a day to control her appetite, and she plans to see a nutritionist to learn more about making good food choices. To keep in shape, Yesenia follows an exercise routine that includes working out with 5-pound dumbbells and doing jumping jacks, in addition to walking 30 minutes each day. “Slowly, but surely, I’ve been losing weight,” she said. “I feel much more energetic and confident!”

Now that her health has improved, Yesenia is looking forward to furthering her career and become a Registered Nurse. With help from her training benefits, she’s currently taking classes at Lehman College in preparation for enrolling in its nursing program. Before the New York City public school system closed, she also used her child-care benefits to cover expenses for an after-school homework club for her son, Matthew.

Looking back on how her benefits have helped support her health, her career and her family, Yesenia is glad she listened to her friends’ advice years ago: “My 1199SEIU benefits really have been good to me. I’m so thankful for them!”

What Do Your Benefits Mean to You?

You count on your health benefits to support you in your efforts to stay healthy, whether it’s by getting regular checkups, keeping a chronic condition under control or just improving your lifestyle in general. But has there ever been a time when your health coverage literally saved your life or the life of a loved one? If so, we’d like to hear from you. To share your story with your fellow members in an upcoming issue of For Your Benefit, please contact the Funds at [email protected].

For Your Benefit Magazine