You may not know Andrea Torres, but if you have been reading her Tuesday column in Tropical Life, you could feel like she’s a friend.
Andrea took us with her when she first learned the lump she had detected on her left breast was, in fact, cancer. She confided the heart-breaking realization that, at 33, she may never be able to have a child. And she shared her struggle with her new body image — post mastectomy — against the backdrop of popular beauty images.
Since August, Andrea has been writing about her difficult journey.
“As a journalist, I felt I had a responsibility to share my experiences,” said Andrea, who works at the heart of The Miami Herald’s multimedia operations. “There is a powerful influence you can have on someone’s life by being open about your own challenging experiences in life. And it’s more than likely that you’ll realize that you aren’t alone.”
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Each week, Andrea receives dozens of emails from readers. Many are breast cancer survivors, offering encouragement and advice after each column.
“Many friends of mine, and my relatives, are reading your column and telling me they never realized what I went through,’’ wrote Katherine Revell. “It has really been educational for them, and cathartic for me.”
Some are husbands who lost their wives, rooting for her recovery. Others are young women who are facing the same issues.
“It makes you feel a little bit better and stronger to have someone to share with who knows what you are going through,” said Jessica LaBonte, who is also 33 and met Andrea on Facebook when LaBonte got her diagnosis in October.
A handful of readers have become constant companions.
“I have a network of five breast cancer survivors who I can talk to at any time,’’ Andrea said. “I have hundreds of abuelitas who write to me. I get letters from the most amazing women and men, husbands and sons. I’ve gotten nothing but support and love. It just gives me so much hope.”
During the most difficult part of her treatment — through the nausea after chemotherapy, through stinging pain dulled only by Oxycodone, and through post-surgery depression — Andrea continued to write. It is the kind of determination she brings to her work. (You can find her past columns by clicking on MiamiHerald.com/health.)
Two weeks ago, Andrea returned to the newsroom to rousing applause. After months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and follow-up radiation treatments for her Stage 3 cancer, she took her seat in the center of the newsroom, updating MiamiHerald.com with the latest news, tweeting Herald news flashes, posting our stories on Facebook.
Her recovery continues. Hormone therapy and reconstructive surgery still lie ahead. She had a setback last week when she caught a cold that has been going around the office. She is resting, but determined to come back to the newsroom and to continue writing.
“I was afraid at the beginning of not being able to tell the story well. What was most difficult was sharing the emotions, being vulnerable, and admitting you are afraid in such a public forum. But when you face a disease that could potentially kill you, those kinds of fears go away.”