The idea of breast cancer wasn't new to me when I felt a lump in my breast three months after I missed my scheduled mammogram in 2000 (my cousin had been treated for breast cancer and I had done walks to raise money for the disease). Still, I didn't think it applied to me so I waited a couple of weeks before I called my doctor. He sent me for a mammogram two days later, and they discovered a mass. I had a biopsy, which came back positive, and then was told I probably shouldn't follow through on my plan to start a new job. Still, I wasn't shocked; I took it in stride.
I had a mastectomy and opted for immediate reconstruction, then went through eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of daily radiation. My cancer was aggressive -- the tumor was 2.5 centimeters and nine lymph nodes were positive. When I learned these facts, the seriousness of it all hit me. I had been reading up on the disease and had learned that ten positive lymph nodes meant you were in bad shape (this was in 2000, before sentinel node biopsies), and here I was so close, with nine. It was like a slap in the face, and I cried like a baby.
I had always been attached to my beautiful hair, and rather than wait for it to fall out, I shaved it and was fitted for a wig. My hair came back afterward, but it was different. My body also became more sensitive after the treatments. I often wonder what are the long-term effects on women's bodies of all these medications and treatments.
I became involved with SHARE after my surgery. It really helped me because it gave me the chance to talk to another breast cancer survivor. That, along with a positive attitude and my Catholic faith, was part of what made me well again.
Now I volunteer on SHARE's Helpline, and I feel very good doing it. By the end of the conversation, the woman I'm talking to is almost always more calm and less fearful than before, and she's always very thankful for the information and support. I also facilitate a LatinaSHARE support group in the East Harlem area, and travel with SHARE to the annual National Breast Cancer Coalition's Advocacy Training Conferences where we get the opportunity to lobby at the Capitol. I get great satisfaction from letting women with breast cancer know they're not alone. I also try to encourage them to ask questions of their doctors -- something I didn't do enough of. This is really important.