This is part of our "Meet a Volunteer" series, highlighting the incredible ovarian and breast cancer survivors and thrivers who volunteer with SHARE to support other women facing these diseases. If you're interested in becoming a volunteer yourself, click here!
Why did you decide to be a SHARE Breast Cancer Helpline and Peer Volunteer, and what do like most about it?
I was introduced to SHARE in 2012 when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. My helpline Volunteer was Grace Muñoz who has remained a friend and a continued source of support and encouragement. During the difficult and not so difficult times, SHARE is always a place I can call for support, information and encouragement. In turn, I have decided to volunteer my time to give to others what I have received.
When were you diagnosed and what was your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed in 2012 with estrogen positive, progesterone positive, HER2 negative (HR+, HER2-) breast cancer. A right-side mastectomy was performed followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Immediately thereafter, I started on an Aromatase inhibitor.
Where are you now, as far as your breast cancer “journey?”
In 2015, a PET scan revealed metastatic cancer to the chest wall. I was started on Afinitor and Exemestane. This treatment lasted for two years. Then, I started on a regimen of Ibrance and Faslodex this mode of treatment lasted for an additional two years. However, in August of this year an MRI revealed metastasis to the liver. Verzenio and Letrazole were prescribed. While on this regimen, I experienced debilitating side effects and the dosage of Verzenio was decreased. Genomic testing done a few weeks prior indicated an acquired ESR1 gene mutation. Letrazole was discontinued and Faslodex was resumed. Despite the reduced dosage, my side effects continued, but to a lesser degree. A CT of the chest was ordered for a continuous productive cough and revealed an increase in the size of the lesion on the liver. All medications were discontinued and further testing will be done to determine a new plan of care.
In addition to volunteering for SHARE, what else do you do? What do you (or did you) do for work?
As a child I always wanted to be a nurse. Nursing is my passion and I was able to fulfill that dream. My career as a Registered Nurse spanned from 1985 to 2015. In 2011 I decided to further my education and enrolled in a Master’s program in nursing. In 2012, after receiving my cancer diagnosis, I took a medical leave from work for six months and was encouraged by my university’s faculty to take a year off from my studies. I was determined to achieve my goal, and I returned to school after one semester. During my chemotherapy and and radiation I persevered, and I graduated in December of 2013 with a degree as a Nurse Clinical Specialist. I never practiced in that area, but I am able to utilize the skills that I have acquired to help myself and others. After retiring in 2015, I continue to practice nursing informally. I am a member of Gilda’s Club as well as an active attendee of a support group sponsored by Gilda’s club at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. I provide educational materials and information to the group as necessary. I share health information with family, friends or where I recognize a need. I attend conferences to keep up to date with the changing healthcare environment.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy dancing, especially to Caribbean music, I love listening to music, and I also enjoy walking. I belong to a walking group, and we walk five miles five days a week year-round. Due to my current setback, I am unable to continue. However, I look forward to being “back on the trail” once my condition stabilizes.
What did you learn about yourself while going through your breast cancer experience?
During my cancer journey, I have learned that I am stronger than I could ever have imagined. I learned that I must relinquish control at times, and I have recognized my ability to be compassionate, kind and humble.
What priorities did you have before and after?
In the past, I think my priorities were not in the appropriate order. My career as a nurse became so important that I forgot to take time for myself and the ones close to me. Now, I realize the importance of self-care and I’m in a place that I can give my best to others and spend quality time with family.
Any other insights that you want to share?
The writer Scott Peck wrote in his book entitled The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” I am also learning to accept the things that I cannot change. I wish we as humans did not have to endure such suffering, but these times bring with them lessons which if heeded can lead to better understanding of ourselves. Life is not promised to anyone. Therefore, I am living with more purpose and gratitude.