Cori is hoping the sudden weight loss she’s experiencing has more to do with her stress and daily routine than her genetics — but her doctors aren’t so sure.

The mother of three recently lost 9 pounds in a three-week period without really trying, and doctors can’t yet explain what’s causing the 26-year-old’s blood pressure to skyrocket.

“They asked for an exam for cancer genetics because my mom and my grandma have had cancer, and during an annual pap smear, it came out bad, so they’re asking me for that,” she said in Spanish on Wednesday. “And now I have doubts because the doctor says it’s not good that I’m losing weight without a reason.”

Cori’s health issues, however, appear to be the least of her worries. Instead, she’s more focused on making sure her three daughters — ages 8, 6, and 4 — are well cared for, learning and happy.

Cori’s the epitome of Mother Goose: wherever she goes, they go.

“People always think it’s weird when they’re not with me,” she said Friday with a big smile. “They always ask me, ‘And the girls?’”

At the beginning, it was mostly out of survival — a maternal instinct to protect her daughters.

Cori said she spent nearly eight years in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, the father of her three daughters, living in what she described as pure chaos.

“With him, we couldn’t even go to the living room. They couldn’t be running if he was home — nothing,” she said about her children. “We were locked up in the room if he was home. And I thought, ‘What kind of life is this for them?’”

About a year-and-a-half ago, Cori took a leap of faith and left him.

“I decided to be alone and not suffer so much with my daughters because I saw myself ending up like my mother-in-law, his mother. She was a victim, too, at the hands of her husband, my ex-husband’s dad. He killed her,” Cori said. “So those problems were coming, and each time I felt (the abuse) was more and more and more.”

Her mother-in-law’s homicide, which also resulted in the death of another man in Cameron County, was well-documented by local media outlets, including The Monitor’s sister paper, The Brownsville Herald.

“He thought my mother-in-law was with another man and he killed them both,” Cori said.

The last time Cori’s ex-husband assaulted her in June 2019, police told her that if she didn’t press charges, the state would do it because of the severity of her injuries.

“He tried to strangle me, and I felt like, ‘That’s it — it’s only a matter of time before I end up like my mother-in-law,’” she said holding back tears.

The decision to get out on her own with her three daughters was a difficult one, but a worthy one, she said Friday.

“I knew I was going to struggle, but I preferred to take that risk,” she said. “And thank God, I’m fine now. I’m alive.”

A Christmas ornament hangs on the tree as the children sit nearby at the family home Friday in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

A NEW BEGINNING

After being released from the hospital due to her extensive injuries, Cori and her daughters spent 45 days living at the Mujeres Unidas shelter.

Then, they began living like gypsies, she said, moving from one place to another.

“It’s been a total adventure. We’ve moved like eight times,” she said.

Making ends meet and paying for rent has been the most difficult task of all. Cori is not authorized to work in the U.S., doesn’t have any family here and the split happened during the summer months of 2019, so her girls couldn’t stay in the safest place for them outside of home: school.

“I needed a job and I knew I needed to work, but I didn’t have anywhere I could leave my daughters, somebody I could trust,” she said. “And so I was always coming and going with my daughters.”

At one point, Cori and her girls began baking and selling chocoflan, a Mexican dessert cake, at church and outside of stores like Walmart.

“I had never made them before,” she recalled with laughter. “That was my first job as a single mom.”

During that time, Cori and her girls began finding refuge in church.

“I think that’s where I found my peace — like I was going to be able to do it,” she said. “And I think that’s been my best decision — focusing on church and taking my daughters.”

Church is also what led her to a family that has restored her faith in humanity.

During a reunion of her church’s local chapters, a woman whom Cori did not know approached her.

“I see you’re always up and down with your kids,” the woman told Cori. “Do you want a job?”

The woman had been cleaning the home of a prominent Indian family for many years, but was about to leave her post and her gracious employers were looking for a replacement. Cori accepted the offer and began working with the family earlier this year.

At first, language barriers prevented Cori from forming a meaningful relationship with the woman of the house and her husband, who own a medical clinic in the Rio Grande Valley.

But then COVID-19 struck Cori, and when the family visited her at her dilapidated trailer to check up on her, they were taken aback by the conditions she was living in.

“Every time it rained, it would get wet,” Cori said.

And because the coronavirus had rendered her incapable of working for about two months, she soon was evicted from that trailer, too.

Cori then moved into a friend’s home and resumed her duties with the Indian family, with whom she learned how to communicate through Google Translate.

One day, the family asked her to clean a nearby home. Cori thought it was an odd request, but she did it anyway. Then, she started noticing the family began buying things like plate sets for three children and an adult. Then came a microwave, then a refrigerator, a stove and other large appliances.

She once again thought it odd, but never allowed her imagination to run wild. Instead, she kept working at creating a better life for her girls and moving forward.

On Sept. 9, the family asked Cori and her girls to meet them at the house she had previously been asked to clean. It turned out, the family had rented it for them and outfitted it with all of the necessary furniture and appliances.

“I couldn’t believe it,” a grateful Cori recalled Friday from her living room, where a picture of the Taj Mahal is displayed prominently. “I don’t know how these angels came into my life — her and all her family.”

One of the children walks past the Christmas tree at the family home Friday in Mission. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

TOMORROW

Cori is still undergoing tests at the family’s medical practice to determine the cause of her weight loss and high blood pressure, but she remains positive.

“I do work a lot,” she said, almost as if trying to justify the weight loss. “There are days in which I don’t sit down all day, and I’m up and down, up and down.”

Still, the 111-pound woman is 20 pounds below her ideal weight.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “I think it’s all the stress and the worrying.”

But despite her health issues and everything else life has thrown at them, Cori and the girls are happy, she said.

“It’s very difficult, but right now they’re doing very well. They don’t even miss him,” she said about her ex-husband. “They tell me, “ Ay mamita , we’re so happy without dad.”

And while she finally feels like she’s found a home, Cori worries about their future. She fears she’s a burden to the gracious family that has given them more than they ever imagined.

“I have to think about the future because nothing lasts forever. And I know this is a help that they are giving me, but I don’t really know for how long,” she said with a tinge of worry in her voice.

To help this family and others, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to the Spirit of Christmas campaign. Due to COVID-19, only monetary donations are being accepted for families in need.