It was a Sunday evening. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I felt pain under my left breast and noticed a lump. This startled me as I hadn't noticed it before. I called my OB/GYN first thing on Monday morning, and he suggested I come in that day for an examination. I had had my yearly appointment six months before and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so he said it was probably a cyst. After the exam, he recommended I get a mammogram at the same place I had had one done at age 34 (a baseline he had recommended then, I was 39 now). After the mammogram, the technician asked me to wait without changing and shortly after came back saying they needed to do an ultrasound to take a better look at the mass. The radiologist came in the room with a look of concern and suggested I have the mass biopsied. This was the beginning of a series of events that led to a very low moment in my life: a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis. It is hard to put into words the roller coaster of emotions one goes through after hearing the word cancer. You hear other people have it or get it. You say to yourself, "I eat a balanced, healthy diet; I exercise, I don't smoke or drink, there is no family history . . ." but then this happens to you.
Once my husband and I processed the information, biopsy results, recommendations for treatment and so on, we talked about how I needed to do whatever it took to up my odds of survival. My mom flew from Panama within days to help us take care of our two small children. She became our "home base." She also attended all appointments and treatments. Doctors and nurses were very patient to explain and wait for me to translate to my mom what they were saying. This was a blessing in disguise because I got to hear myself repeat what the doctors were saying, but in my native language.
Our family dynamics changed drastically. Suddenly, I needed frequent naps, wound care after surgery, help caring for my children, etc. My world was turned upside down, yet support came pouring in from circles of neighbors, friends, family and of course, my own little ones. They were so patient with me and adjusted beautifully to the new routine of dad or Abuela tucking them in for bed, neighbors driving them to and from school, friends bringing meals. The list goes on, we were never alone.
I knew there was a purpose to the madness of cancer in my life, but I didn't quite know what that was. Until one day, I got an invitation to participate in a program sponsored by Susan G. Komen, the breast cancer navigator program. I received training and started helping newly diagnosed patients with their journey. I also helped with a project from "A Time to Heal" to produce CDs in Spanish for latina breast cancer survivors. Currently I am helping with the production of Spanish videos of the "A Time to Heal" program, also sponsored by Komen.
While in treatment, I participated in my first Race for the Cure and was able to complete the one-mile walk, despite being pretty worn out. Seeing all of those smiling faces, some bald like me, others having survived many years, gave me strength and inspiration. All of those women in pink shirts that read "survivor" represented the hope that newly diagnosed patients needed. I have since continued to walk every year, and completed my seventh walk last October.
I can't say enough good things about Komen. I used to hate the color pink, but I don't anymore. It represents a group of determined, fiesty people who fight together for those who are battling or who are about to embark in their own breast cancer journey. Men and women who let others know they are not alone in their fight. That is what pink and Komen represent. What a blessing to be able to volunteer for Komen whenever possible!