Breast Cancer is My Pillar
October is Cancer Awareness Month, and Morir Soñando wants to shine light on a few different forms of cancers that hit home to us, one being breast cancer. According to Breastcancer.com, “about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. To narrow things down to our community, did you know that Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, accounting for 22% of deaths? Breast cancer is still the most common cancer among Hispanic women in the United States. As for African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the US for most cancers.
As a blog that promotes women empowerment we always want to share stories to let others know they are not alone, especially through trials and tribulations such as health scares. In this post, we are going to share a personal account of one of our close friend. Although the risk of breast cancer increases highly after the age of 40, this is how our friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26 years old.
For years, I noticed a lump under my armpits and I would tell my mom about it and she would brush it off as a bola de masa (mass of fat). I would ask her what should I do and she would tell me to heat a spoon with boiling water and place the hot spoon on the lump so that it would go away. Like most of go to remedies, this was just a Dominican wife's tale, but I never questioned it as mothers always know the best. One day my haunting lump started to grow bigger. I didn’t experience pain, but the growth scared me. I was already set up for my regular annual check up in which I took the opportunity to address the issue with my doctor. While my doctor was doing the routine breast exam, I told her about the lump. She made an alarming facial expression, but didn't say anything. She continued to do my exam around my breast and she felt more lumps. The doctor had asked me if cancer has been a family issue before because there was a possibility I could have breast cancer. My face dropped, I was speechless, and I felt like the world was against me. She gave me a pink folder with an explanation on what to expect, but to be honest I didn't even read, or bother to open the folder. I sat there and just thought of my son being in this world alone, if I didn't survive. Right after this I was then taken to a separate room to do more exams and was given a consultation on how they will remove my breast. The thought of removing my breast was very hard for me to cope with knowing I would carry a scar and have no nipples for the rest of my life.
I didn't know how to tell my family. When I finally shared the news with them, they were the exact support I needed to face this with strength. I underwent a double mastectomy where they removed the cancer in the right breast, and in addition removed the left breast for prevention. As for my relationship with my boyfriend, I felt like dealing with breast cancer didn't affect it at all. My boyfriend showed amazing support since the day I told him I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What it did affect was my confidence as a women. My confidence took a toll as the change in my body was traumatizing. Where I once saw a breast now I couldn’t feel anything, and I had no nipples, just scars. In addition to this procedure, I still had to undergo chemotherapy for some post treatment. And if this wasn't enough of a roller coaster at 26, during a pre-chemotherapy testing, to my surprised, I discovered that I was pregnant.
The news that I was pregnant made me feel excited, but at the same time scared. I wasn't sure if the baby would be fine especially after knowing all my body was going to be put through to battle this cancer. One major concern was that I would be on painkillers during an 8 hour surgery of my breast removal. I spoke to a few doctors that made it very difficult for me to decide what I wanted to do with my baby. Some doctors were ok with me keeping the baby, while other doctors were against the idea. I was told I could lose the baby due to the chemo treatment. There was also a possibility that the baby would have developmental complications or will be born severely premature. Despite the risks and scare, speaking to a few of my family members, and my partner, it made me look at things differently, as I had their full support in fighting breast cancer. So, I decided to keep my baby and go on with my procedure. I knew I was strong enough but it was going to be a tough journey.
Before I started chemo, I had to wait three months so the baby won't be at any harm. Once I started with my treatment, it was really tough. The hardest part was the emotional toll it took on me. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right or wrong thing in keeping the baby, or if she would make it after such a strong treatment. I lost all my hair, and I was always sick. I threw up constantly, and I felt really weak. I tried to maintain strong for myself and my baby, but most of the time I was tired, swollen, and throwing up. A few months later, due to the fact that I wasn't eating well, my baby was born premature with a very low weight. My baby girl had to stay a few weeks more in the hospital until she had the right weight to come home. Gratefully, my baby was a soldier too and 8 days later the baby had gained the proper weight and was discharged from the hospital.
After giving birth, I continued my next step of treatment. I began to receive radiation therapy on my right breast. For the next 5 years, I have to drink Tamoxifen to prevent cancer from coming back. Despite of what we have been through, with the support of my boyfriend and our family, my daughter has grown to be a strong little girl and a major blessing. After all my treatments, my hair has grown back, and I decided to get implants on both of my breasts. Having implants helped me build back my confidence as a woman. I’m living life the right way by eating healthy and following up with doctors.
The advice I can give to all women is to please do not hesitate to ask doctors questions no matter how stupid the questions may sound. Examine yourself at home while laying down or taking a bath. Whatever lump you feel near your armpit or breast call your doctors - don't wait last minute as the earlier the better the chance to fight it. My experience with breast cancer included many ups and downs and I am very happy it's over, but every day I am grateful of the new outlook it gave me on life. I am a survivor who fought an enemy and won. At 26, through breast cancer, I learned how strong I can be! Now is the pillar of my life as anytime anything wants to bring me down, I remind myself I survived Breast Cancer!