Long before singer-songwriter Soraya was diagnosed with breast cancer,
she started to build a legacy as a woman determined to break the silence
that surrounded breast cancer and pervaded the Latin community
worldwide. She also used her musical fame as a platform to inform women
the importance of early detection. She encouraged women to "Fight
for your life, you deserve it." Later, she would use her own words as
mantra for survival.
• Soraya is born to Gregorio and Yamila Lamilla, who immigrated to New
Jersey from Colombia in 1967.
• To feed Soraya’s passion for music, her father buys her first guitar,
which she teaches herself to play. She later takes up the violin.
• Soraya earns a spot on the New York City Youth Symphony Orchestra at
• She performs at Carnegie Hall.
• Throughout Soraya’s childhood she remains close to her Colombian roots
and her extended family there.
• Soraya is class valedictorian and earns a four-year scholarship to
Douglas College at Rutgers University.
• Her mother 46, is diagnosed with breast cancer.
• Soraya graduates from Rutgers and moves with her family to Miami.
• She works as a flight attendant for United Airlines on Latin American
• She focuses on writing music and earning enough money to record her
• Her mother loses her battle with breast cancer.
• Soraya signs a major recording contract with Island/PolyGram records
and is scheduled for twin releases in English and in Spanish.
• Soraya’s first album, "On Nights Like This/En Esta Noche" sells over a
million copies worldwide.
• "Suddenly/De Repente" is a number one hit in Mexico, Colombia, the
United States, Peru, Argentina, Chile, and all of Central America.
• Her second single, "Avalanche/Avalancha" also hits the Top 10 in many
• Joyce Fleming becomes Soraya’s tour manager.
• Soraya tours with Sting, Michael Bolton, Natalie Merchant and Alannis
• BMI awards her the Songwriter’s Award for "Suddenly/De Repente." The
same song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks, received MTV
Video by Female Artist award, and was awarded Best Pop Ballad by Premios
• Soraya is named to the Top 10 Latin Songwriter list by Billboard
• In the U.S., both Variety and Time call Soraya one of the most
influential women in Spanish music.
• Soraya releases her second CD, "Wall of Smiles/Torre de Marfil”
featuring the up-tempo "Paris, Cali, Milan" and the emotional ballad "So
• Soraya focuses her attention on writing songs for her third album.
• She meets Nancy Brinker at a Miami TV fundraiser for breast cancer and
later, is named Latin Ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.
• A few days before releasing her third CD, “I'm Yours/Cuerpo y Alma”
and travels to Colombia to say an emotional goodbye to her favorite Aunt
is dying from breast cancer.
• While in Colombia, Soraya discovers a lump while in the shower and
hurries back home where doctors diagnose her with aggressive Stage III
• She decides to go public about her diagnosis and puts her career on
hold for treatment. Immediately following Soraya’s announcement, she
6,000 E-mails from fans, other patients and many members of the Hispanic
community looking for breast cancer information.
• Soraya receives two chemotherapy treatments. Because of her family's
history of breast cancer, she chooses to have a double mastectomy.
• Soraya decides she is ready to return to her music career. She opens
five shows for Sting.
• Soraya walks with Costa Rican First Lady Lorena Clare de Rodriguez
Echeverria in that nation's first Race for the Cure in March 2001.
• She has reconstructive surgery just weeks before the Miami Race for
the Cure. Determined to show people that your life continues even when
you have the
disease, she holds a press conference with international media, performs
and hands out breast cancer literature.
• Soraya writes, "No One Else/Por Ser Quien Soy" that chronicles her
emotional and physical journey through breast cancer. She vows all
proceeds to forever
benefit breast cancer.
• Procter & Gamble agrees to underwrite the production of a bilingual
CD-ROM featuring the “No One Else/Por Ser Quien Soy” music video and
educational video urging women to take charge of their breast health.
Between 2002-2004, over 115,000 CD-ROMs are distributed to English and
speaking consumers nationwide.
• Soraya releases her comeback CD, her self-titled album, Soraya.
Considered an anthem of survival, the song, "Almost/Casi" hits number
one in the US and
• Soraya performs her first full-length headline show since 2000 in
• Soraya partners with sanofi-aventis to become spokesperson for their
online patient support program called www.livingwithit.org. Between 2003
and the end
of 2005, she makes over 40 appearances, providing education, support and
hope, and speaking to Komen Race for the Cure participants, medical
professionals, breast cancer patients, the media, and sanofi-aventis
employees. Soraya’s words of support and hope are shared by
nearly 200,000 breast cancer patients in this three-year time frame.
• She becomes a spokesperson for General Mills' Yoplait “Save Lids to
Save Lives” campaign encouraging women to participate in their breast
and television interviews and appearances garner tens of millions of
• Soraya wins a Latin Grammy in the Best Singer Songwriter category for
her CD, "Soraya."
• She receives Latin Billboard’s Spirit of Hope Award for her tireless
work to raise awareness and educate the Hispanic community about breast
• Soraya’s fifth CD, "The Better Side of Me/El Otro Lado De Mi" is
released and acclaimed by many to be her best.
• Soraya’s cancer returns, but she chooses not to share the news
publicly as her music and breast cancer efforts continue to gain
momentum. This time she
intends to show people what you can accomplish while battling breast
• Soraya continues songwriting for other artists and writes Ricky
Martin’s 2005 hit "It’s Alright."
• "The Better Side of Me/El Otro Lado De Mi" is nominated for a Latin
Grammy in the Best Female Pop Vocal Album category.
• Soraya makes her last public appearance on Nov. 3 at the Latin
Grammy’s in Los Angeles. She was nominated for Best Pop Album by a
Female for "El Otro
Lado de Mi." She looked like a beautiful Hollywood starlet that
night, completely belying the war her body was fighting with itself
beneath the surface of her
skin. The following day, Soraya is scheduled to make an appearance
for sanofi-aventis. However, after the awards ceremony, her health takes
a turn for
the worse and she returns home immediately.
• Soraya continues writing songs and finishes drafting a book to share
her story and to inspire others dealing with serious illness or personal
• On May 7, Soraya receives the first typeset pages of the manuscript by
Joyce Fleming, her personal manager.
• On May 9 Soraya posts a goodbye letter on her Website. "I know there
are many questions without answers, and that hope doesn’t leave with me,
above all, that my mission does not end with my physical story," she
• On May 10, Soraya says her final goodbye.
singer/songwriter Soraya experienced a series of ups and downs over the
course of her career, resulting in a catalog of music that chronicles that
journey in all its glory and struggle
Born in Point Pleasant, NJ, in 1969 to Colombian parents who had immigrated
from Lebanon, her career got off to a smashing start in 1996 with the
release of a pair of hit-laden albums: En Esta Noche and On Nights Like
This, the latter an English-language version of the former. In particular,
"De Repente" was a huge international hit and would remain her signature
tune for years.
She followed this
success with a pair of albums — Torre de Marfil (1997) and Cuerpo y Alma
(2000) — that saw her
popularity erode steadily, though these albums were anything but poor,
expanding her style to incorporate a broader palette, most notably a tinge
of worldbeat flourishes. These albums had their share of hits, too, but none
on a par with the international recognition of "De Repente." This brought
her contract with Universal Music Latino to an end, and she left the label,
signing instead to EMI.
this transition, Soraya waged a life-threatening battle with breast cancer,
one that would inform her debut album for EMI, Soraya (2003). This
self-titled album ushered her back to international fame, spawning the
number one hit "Casi" and earning her a Latin Grammy. With her popularity
returned to peak level, she recorded the follow-up in her native
That album, El Otro Lado de Mi (2005), was a more complex and rocking one
than her previous effort, yet it too was met with substantial commercial
success, scoring a big hit with "Llevame." Around this time Universal was
busy releasing numerous compilations of her tenure there, further adding to
an already impressive catalog.
Sadly, Soraya lost her battle with cancer on May 10, 2006, at age 37,
concluding her life and musical accomplishments prematurely (Herencia, a
best-of collection, was released posthumously that same year). In the wake
of her departure, she was remembered not only as a major Latin artist but
also as an advocate for breast cancer awareness. Her activism was well noted
and deemed admirable.
Soraya Raquel Lamilla Cuevas
(March 11, 1969 – May 10, 2006) was a Colombian-American songwriter,
guitarist, arranger, record producer, and singer. She was a successful Latin
music star who had two number-one songs on Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay charts.
She won a 2004 Latin Grammy Awards for "Best Songwriting" and a 2005 Latin
Grammy Awards nomination for "Female Pop Vocal Album" for her album El Otro Lado
de Mi. She was the opening act for the 2005 Billboard Latin Music Awards. Her
career spanned ten years, and she recorded five albums.
Soraya Lamilla was a U.S. citizen born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, one year
after her father, mother, and brother moved to the United States from Colombia.
Her family was forced to move back to Colombia, but when Soraya was eight years
old, they returned to New Jersey. "Soraya" is a very common name in the Middle
East. Soraya's maternal side of the family were Lebanese Christians who
emigrated from Lebanon to Colombia.
Soraya's mother, Yamila Cuevas Gharib, was a housewife in Colombia, but when the
family moved to the United States, her parents had to work extremely hard. Her
father worked three or four jobs, and it was hard for the family to make ends
meet. In Colombia he worked for an exporting company.
Soraya was never allowed to speak English in her house while growing up. It was
the one thing that her mother insisted upon. Her father brought the family to
the United States because he wanted to increase the opportunities for himself
and his children. Her father studied English long before he arrived in the
United States, but her mother preferred to speak Spanish although she did learn
English, as well. While her mother wanted Soraya and her brother to become
fluent in English in school, she also wanted them to retain their ability to
communicate well in Spanish.
When Soraya's mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Soraya was only
twelve years old. Then Soraya's mother had a recurrence when Soraya was eighteen
years old, and then her mother died in 1992 when Soraya was twenty-two years
old. Soraya said that her sense of responsibility increased because she needed
to take care of her mother and do all of the chores around the house. It forced
her to grow up faster than other children her age. Soraya would go to the
doctor's office with her mother, and did research with her about breast cancer,
and participated in the Race for the Cure with her.
Soraya first became interested in music at the age of five when she heard her
uncle playing music in Colombia. Her uncle played Colombian traditional folk
music on an instrument called the tiple, which is a kind of guitar with triple
strings. Her parents purchased a guitar for her at her request, and she taught
herself to play it. She became proficient in classical violin and her first
'public' performance was as a violinist at Carnegie Hall in New York City. As a
high school student, Soraya began writing her own music in English and Spanish.
Soraya attended Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she studied English
literature, French philosophy and women's studies. Initially, Soraya worried she
might be too shy to play before big crowds, but she eventually triumphed over
her fear and realized her tremendous talent as a live performer when she played
to rapt audiences at coffee houses and rallies around the sprawling Rutgers
Soraya obtained a record contract with Polygram Latino/Island Records in 1996.
Her first album, called En Esta Noche (English-language version On Nights Like
This), received positive critical acclaim and enabled her to tour and open for
famous musicians such as Natalie Merchant, Zucchero, Sting, Michael Bolton, and
Four of her songs climbed to the top of the charts just about everywhere in the
Latin American and U.S. Hispanic markets, and her single "Suddenly/De Repente"
dominated the Billboard Latin Pop listings. Her second album, Torre de Marfil
(English-language version Wall of Smiles), co-written with her idol Carole King
and released in late 1997, helped her attain worldwide recognition.
Unfortunately, her breast cancer was diagnosed shortly after the release of her
third album — just before she was about to tour to promote it. Yet, Soraya
created two more successful albums before she finally succumbed to the disease
Breast cancer advocate
Soraya died of breast cancer on May 10, 2006, age 37. She was first diagnosed
in 2000, at the age of 31, after finding a lump while conducting a routine
self-examination. She was diagnosed at Stage III and had a double mastectomy and
breast reconstruction as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Before
being diagnosed, she had always eaten right, exercised regularly (trying to run
at least 3 miles a day), meditated, and received regular health check-ups.
Soraya had previously lost her mother, grandmother, and maternal aunt to breast
cancer. She was a breast cancer advocate for support and education, especially
of Hispanic women. Soraya became the first Latin spokesperson for the Susan G.
Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, touring all the Americas to raise awareness.
During September and October, she took a break from her music career to focus on
breast cancer awareness.
In order to encourage other women, Soraya wrote and recorded "No One Else/Por
Ser Quien Soy", a song that reflects her experience in fighting breast cancer.
Both tracks can be downloaded on her official website. All proceeds benefit the
Susan Koman foundation.
"I know there are many questions without answers, and that hope doesn't leave
with me, and above all, that my mission does not end with my physical story,"
were Soraya's last words to her fans and the media before her passing.