I sat at work lacking any form of concentration, and the minutes felt like hours. Deep down I knew something was wrong, but I didn't want to accept it.
My phone rang and reality set in: it was my oncologist with the biopsy results. "No hay forma facil de decirte esto, el tumor es maligno,” he said. I had stage II breast cancer.
If you asked me what else my doctor said on that phone call, I wouldn't be able to tell you. I never thought I would be diagnosed with cancer at age 29. All I could think about was the uncertainty ahead. Chemo. My hair. The other side effects. Surgery. The burden I was going to be for my husband and my family. The future was so terrifying because I had no control over it. I hung up the phone, looked over at my co-worker and said, “Es cancer.”
I locked myself in the bathroom and called my family. In less than 10 minutes, my husband was outside the bathroom door asking for me to let him in. We hugged and cried, and I could see that he was hurting just as much as I was. When I got home, my parents were waiting for me with the same deep sadness in their eyes. At that moment, I knew I had to be strong for both myself and my family.
Upon consulting an oncologist in Guatemala, where I live, it was suggested that I get a second opinion from MD Anderson’s Vicente Valero, M.D. A week later I arrived in Houston and immediately knew I made the right decision. Dr. Valero, along with my breast surgeon, Mediget Teshome, M.D., and my radiation oncologist, Simona Shaitelman, M.D., gave me such hope.
After 16 rounds of chemo, a mastectomy and 30 rounds of radiation, I was declared cancer-free on Dec. 4, 2015. Now, nine months after my diagnosis and my first visit to MD Anderson, I’ve gone from seeing cancer as a nightmare to feeling thankful for my second chance and all of the valuable life lessons I’ve gained. Here’s what I’ve learned from cancer:
The clichés are true. Don't take anything for granted. Love unconditionally. Laugh until it hurts. Say I love you so many times that it gets annoying. Help people who are less fortunate. Learn the meaning of sacrifice. If you fall off the horse, get back on the saddle. Appreciate the people who are there for you. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Things can always be worse. Have fun on the good days, and on the bad days, know there is a better tomorrow. When I was going through chemo, I lost my hair, felt nauseous, suffered from severe headaches and had other common side effects. Through it all, though, I reminded myself that things could be worse.
When you wake up in the morning, give thanks for the air in your lungs, for having the opportunity to live another day with your loved ones, for each and every one of the blessings in your life.
Get to know your body. Go to your yearly check-ups. Get second opinions. If you think something isn't right, ask for more tests. Don’t be afraid of your doctors. Don't let your life be defined by anyone else other than yourself.
Seek out the best possible care. My doctors at MD Anderson suspect that I had cancer for a year before it was diagnosed. Tragically, in third-world countries like Guatemala, technology and medical equipment can be years behind, resulting in un- or misdiagnosed diseases. If this applies to you, I recommend seeking out the best care possible – even if it requires international travel.
Cancer has given me a sense of gratitude that I was unaware existed. What I thought was a nightmare diagnosis truly turned into a blessing thanks to the love of my family and the grace of God.