Cancer survivor shares year-long journey
To read part one of my cancer journey, click here.
When we left off last time, I had been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer at the age 32 and less than a month later found out the cancer had spread to both my ovaries.
My oncologist, Dr. Rajini Manjunath, had told me that I had an aggressive type of breast cancer, with triple positive tumor markers and would need to begin chemotherapy treatments immediately.
On December 9, only 10 days after finding out I had both breast and ovarian cancer, I began intensive chemotherapy treatments (six rounds total), at Advocate Sherman Hospital’s cancer care center. On December 23, 2015, the day my son turned two, my long black hair began falling out for the first time. I lost all of it before my second session. I decided to cut it off completely, and it was then that I began to research and educate myself, and my family, on the side effects of chemotherapy.
I began the new year of 2016 by creating a Facebook page called #PrayingforElida. My reasons for creating the page:
- To request daily 9 pm prayers for myself and my family
- To give weekly updates of my cancer journey for my friends and family.
I was given a free wig to use, but it caused my skin to develop a rash, so I chose to embrace my new body changes and went completely bald – and received many positive, encouraging words! From there on, my schedule filled up as I started advocating for the Latino community through the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides for Breast Cancer about the lack of awareness and resources. They agreed to work on bilingual awareness with my help, and we began preparing for a walk at Soldier Field in Chicago.
By March and April, my cancer levels had dropped significantly, and the next steps were to have a full hysterectomy and a double mastectomy. There were a lot of unknowns of how I got the cancer as my genetic testing confirmed it was not hereditary.
On Cinco de Mayo (5/5), I was treated at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital by Dr. James Dolan, a gyneoncologist, to perform an exploratory laparotomy with a full hysterectomy. When the pathology reports came back, there were no cancer cells found! My secondary breast MRI discovered my cancer tumors had become almost invisible, so my plastic surgeon, Dr. Stefan Szczerba, and my breast surgeon, Dr. Rachel Baer, made a plan for my construction as well as removal of both my breasts.
In July, three days before my 11 year anniversary, I underwent a six-hour surgery, with a double mastectomy at Advocate Sherman Hospital. After about eight weeks, we began breast reconstruction, and once again, pathology reports came back clean. My God, my two surgical teams, my oncology team as well as infinite prayers, finally obtained the results we wanted to hear: I was in remission and had no traces of cancer left.
My radiation treatment is done as of November 18! A year has passed, and we are moving forward in faith, hopeful and strong.
I ask that you learn from my story; that you advocate for your health when you feel abnormal breast symptoms, that you perform your monthly self-breast examination, and that you get your annual preventative exams on time. Regardless of your race, age, gender or economic status, these exams can help you keep your womanhood, motherhood and your bodily anatomy scar free, intact, with the prospect of graceful aging.
I also want to leave an encouraging reminder to any breast and ovarian cancer patients out there – it was a motto we said in Spanish when my son was learning to walk – ‘paso a pasito, poquito a poquito’, which translated means ‘step by step and little by little.’
Sometimes we need to see beyond the time we are constrained to – we need to think beyond our years, we need to live in such a way that gives honor to Our Creator, we need to find the silver lining in any situation, and above all, never lose hope.