Breast Cancer Awareness

Caridad McNamara

My mother died on September 19, 2004 of esophageal cancer. We were devastated. The months that followed were very difficult for our family and especially for my 85-year-old father who had celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary while my mom was in the hospital. However, life invariably has to go on and that was what we did while always remembering her in every facet of our lives.One day, a few months later, while relaxing, and watching TV I noticed a lump in my left breast. I was, as anyone can imagine, very worried. Not just about myself but about the prospect of putting my family through another crisis so shortly after my mother’s death. After a few days of thinking about it, I confided in my sister and we made an appointment for a mammogram. The results showed that I had a large mass in my left breast and that further studies would be needed for a full diagnosis.

The doctors performed a needle biopsy and in three days, the results were in: I had cancer. The tumor was the size of a lemon and its type was the more aggressive variant of breast cancer. There was no time to waste. I had to see a surgeon immediately. However, before that, I had to tell my father. That was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. He was still mourning his wife and now he would have to face the prospect of losing his daughter to the same disease. I sat with him and told him I was not afraid because God was with me. He was very sad but he is a man of great faith and through his tears told me that I was going to make it and that everything was going to be OK.

Those initial days are all a blur. I met with my oncologist and he laid out my treatment plan. I would have 8 cycles of chemotherapy over the course of 6 months in order to shrink the tumor to a manageable size before undergoing a modified radical mastectomy.

The chemotherapy treatments started in early April. At the beginning, I was OK but as time went on the effects of the drugs took hold and I became very sick from the side effects. I lost my hair and fingernails. I could barely eat because of the nausea so I became very weak. I was homebound for several weeks because the chemo had weakened my immune system to the point where a common cold could be very dangerous. I was given blood transfusions to boost my red-blood-cell count since the chemo does not discriminate between healthy and malignant cells. I had always considered myself a strong person with a strong faith in God. However, there were times during my treatment that my faith was tested. There were many nights that I would cry myself to sleep. I was scared and confused. I asked God: why me? I prayed to God that he would help me understand why this was happening to me. There were many times that I was very angry. It was not fair. I thought I had always been a good person. One day, at one of my lowest points and when I was ready to quit the chemo because I felt so sick, God gave me the peace I needed to continue with my treatment and at that time I knew that he would always be there with me.

The chemotherapy treatments finally ended in September 2005. I underwent surgery later that month, almost exactly a year after the death of my mother. The pathology showed that all the malignant cells were gone from the breast and the lymph nodes were also clear of cancer.

I am very proud calling myself a CANCER SURVIVOR. I give thanks to the grace of God, my doctors, my friends and especially my family for helping me beat this terrible disease.Finally, I want to remind all women of the importance to do regular self-examinations and mammograms. Diagnosis at an early stage greatly simplifies a woman’s treatment options. I feel that God has given me a second chance and I want to use this opportunity to help others who are suffering from cancer.

Thank you for giving the opportunity to share my story.