Maria De Los Angeles, a photographer and stylist known in the Miami fashion world as Angeles Almuna, received a call the week of her birthday. She was at home with a friend, organizing her clothes closet.
“They said, ‘Can you sit down?’ And I said, ‘OK,’’’ she recalled. “Maria, I’m afraid it’s cancer and now you have to be prepared for everything. Your life is going to change. Monday you start a new step in your life. Don’t worry you’re in good hands, you’re on stage three, and we found it at the right moment.”
Two weeks earlier, she had a mammography after she felt a lump, but remained confident nothing was wrong. She had scheduled checkups regularly as breast cancer ran in her family, claiming the life of her grandmother. Until now, everything always had come back negative.
Her appointment lasted more than two hours.
“I was a little bit nervous, and three male doctors came. I was half naked, and the nurse and the doctor said to me they found what I had, but also found something else. One of the doctors said, ‘I’m going to do the ultrasound again with all these witnesses,’ and he started again. He found a big one, another one, and when he was going near my back under my axilla, he said, ‘Wow there’s another thing here.’ At that point, the tears streamed down my eyes.”
Doctors told her she had three tumors on her left breast. The largest one was five centimeters. Her 45th birthday party was the next day and with 120 guests invited, she knew she couldn’t cancel. Her friend Claudia was with her in her apartment when she received the news. After, Almuna called her sister, but kept it from her father, a doctor, for over a month.
“I thought the show must go on and tomorrow we are not going to celebrate my birthday, we are going to celebrate life. I told five of my closest friends and the rest of the people at the party had no idea. They were having fun, and I was all dressed up, and we were having dinner, and we had an amazing time, but I knew Monday was the day,” said Almuna, now 46, a fashion photographer, stylist and blogger.
“I needed the support of my people, and I put it on my social media in an easy way, and I said, ‘Hey I have the big C,’ and immediately it was crazy, everyone started sending me messages.’’
Finding support in the online community, the photographer and style powerhouse has documented every milestone on social media.
Enrique Mastrapa, a local artist, known as ABSTRK found Almuna on Instagram and learned of her battle through her posts. Inspired by her fight, he drew a sketch of her. The project has gone from paper to larger than life. The two have collaborated to fund-raise for a three-story mural project by the Design District. He hopes to start the painting by the end of October and finish within two weeks.
“Almost every family I know, someone has cancer,” Mastrapa said. “I thought it would be relevant to put her in that area because she’s in the fashion world. This is not another portrait of somebody famous that you’ll never meet; this is someone in your community who you can talk to and be blown away by how humble she is.’’
Almuna is still fighting and so far has undergone 30 radiation sessions and 16 chemotherapy sessions. She lost her hair two weeks after the first chemo session and has had three blood clots scares. She also had to learn to inject herself daily and takes six pills a day including her vitamins.
On March 10, she had a mastectomy on her left breast. Although her right one remains untouched, the doctors are monitoring it after finding a mass. She says after everything she has endured she learned what her priorities are, which she said she disregarded after a separation from her husband.
“When you discover this you have to ask yourself what your priority is? I love what I do, but I need to slow down. I’m my priority now. I have one body, and this is my treasure, and I need to care for it very well,” Almuna said. “I have to really take care of me and be happy because I’m here. I have the opportunity to work, I have a roof over my head. I’m so grateful and so privileged. There’s been so much pain and suffering and sadness, but at the same time its been the best moment of my life.”
If you go
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure: The annual Miami-Fort Lauderdale edition of the 5K run is 8:30 a.m. Oct. 15 at Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Race site opens at 6 a.m. Entry is $40 (timed runner), $35 to walk, one-mile fun run $35, $20 students (ages 8-18) and $10 tot run (ages 2-7). Race day: $45 (runner, $35 walker, $35 fun run; student and child participant costs the same. firstname.lastname@example.org; 855-867-0431; visit KomenMIAFTL.org.
To donate for her mural visit https://www.gofundme.com/d5k3hk