Winning life one day at a time with Eliano Mesquita

Paul Oresteen
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Posted on: January 10, 2024 4:12 pm EST

Dealing with bad beats in tournament poker can be a metaphor for life. So much can be at risk at any given time. Emotions rise and fall with chip stacks; hours of boredom interrupted with flashes of stressful moments. Life can change on a dime – a mix of bad luck and worse timing – like running kings into aces.

Eliano Mesquita’s life changed on a single drive home.

He was working two jobs to support his wife and three daughters – one in college. Mesquita said, “It was a Saturday; I was driving from my first job to my second and I had a really bad headache.”

“I went home instead of work, my oldest daughter was home for the weekend and she took me to the emergency room,” he said. “They put me in a CAT scan and within five minutes they knew I had a tumor.”

“It was a very aggressive tumor,” said Mesquita. “I had a quarter of my brain taken out along with the tumor.”

Images of Mesquita’s brain showing what had to be removed.

Mesquita had open brain surgery, a craniotomy, within three days of his daughter checking him in to the ER. “I had the surgery and the doctor wanted me out of there the next day. I said, ‘I want to stay another day!”

Mesquita was home recovering with his family two days later. “My wife – she…” he paused for a breath. “Thank God for my wife. She held the family together during that time.”

The Nothing

“I lost my grandmother to cancer it’s all about not giving up,” Mesquita said. “If you can be strong enough and be positive, this is nothing.” He pointed to his backpack.

The nothing is an Optune machine. A cancer treatment device that uses electrical fields with four leads and pads that connect to his brain. “This machine prevents the cancer from coming back.”

“It also sends a signal to the bad cells to fight each other and kill themselves off,” said Mesquita. “It’s a little bit too much technology for me, but that’s how they explained it.”

Eliano Mesquita at the felt.

A patchwork of bandages and wires tuck neatly back together where four longer cords lead to his backpack. The visual can be jarring but Mesquita’s casualness about his situation has a calming effect.

“This thing operates by batteries, I carry three with me and I’ve only had to replace one today,” he said. “It should probably be enough, I hope. I’ve got a little good run going over the last level.”

That’s right, Mesquita cracked a joke about him running out of charge because he had a hot run of cards. The 43-year-old contractor used poker at one point to provide for his family when an injury left him unable to work.  

Turning to poker in tough times

“I love poker, love it,” he said. “Borgata used to run a Wednesday tournament with a $100,000 guarantee for $120 and I won it four weeks in a row. I think I won around $300,000 over a few years when the economy was bad and there was no work.”

“I play this game because you win a life-changing money,” said Mesquita. “I’ve always had that dream. I always play seriously – I take it very seriously.”

One has to be serious when supporting a family and eyeing the finishing line for treatment. “The week before Christmas was my last week of chemo,” he said. “I have an MRI at the end of January and I’m hoping that it shows I’m cancer-free.”

Winning and losing pots shouldn’t be such a big deal for someone fighting brain cancer. But Mesquita isn’t one to sit at home, he was back to work only a week after his craniotomy.

An Almighty run?

“A guy asked me how I was doing today and I told him I’ve been a lot worse. I’m doing great,” he said. “For me, it’s all about God. The way that everything happened made me realize that God was watching over me.”

“When I came to America in 1996 – it was God working on my life and bringing me to this country,” he said. “Because in Brazil, they would have idea what this is (points at machine). It was God working on my life to bring me to the US because he knew that 25 years later things would happen to me.”

Mesquita returns to Day 2 of the Almighty Million event at the Borgata Winter Poker Open. Follow his progress along with all other tournament updates on Instant.Poker.org.

All photos by 8131 Media – Alicia Skillman