There are more of us dealing with this disease than people know. We don't talk about it, but I feel there tends to be cancer shaming. "What did you eat?" or "did you exercise enough?" - questions about your diet and lifestyle. I think to myself, “no, it's my genetics.” My mom had it, and I tried to be proactive about my health, but it still happened.
Living with MBC as a single person is difficult, and I don't know how to present that to someone. We need to pay more attention to the difficulties of dating after diagnosis with breast cancer. You can go through many body-image issues after reconstructive surgery or have difficulty telling someone you're interested in that you live with a chronic disease. For me, it's been very difficult and very lonely.
My resilience keeps me going. I've never backed down from a fight. There are more women here just like me - still pushing forward, living, and loving. I'm grateful for that. We've all been here, and we're going to fight to live and be acknowledged. I'm new to MBC, and when I see someone who has lived seven years, six years, five years, it makes me feel really good. We're here and fighting - that's why I need to share my story. I want to bring more awareness and raise more funds for research because this disease has been here for a long time.
When I found a lump, I was changing careers and had no insurance. Within that year, my whole life changed. I couldn't get out of bed, and I broke eight ribs just by moving furniture. I was that sick before I ever saw a doctor - I had to use the internet to find my own help. I found an institute with a program for women without insurance. Praise God because it saved my life. They told me not to worry about a thing.
There aren't words to describe what it feels like to be in this house with other women like me. I feel like I'm with family. We thrive off each other, and being around people who understand is so refreshing. I've educated a couple of people who've just started chemotherapy, and they've educated me back. I have sisters, and we'll be connected forever. Being at this retreat is one of the best feelings ever. It's overwhelming - but a tremendous, overwhelming feeling.
I wanted to share my story because I remember feeling hopeless, like I had nobody. I would hate to see another single parent - man or woman - feel like that. Everyone is worth it. Life is important. I was lost, but I became educated through all my experiences, and I want to educate others. I would hate for anyone in this situation to not know the right or wrong questions to ask. If I hadn't learned from advocacy groups and done my research, I wouldn't have pushed for the care I needed, and I wouldn't be here today - I know that for a fact.
Clinical trials are vital to creating the medicines we use to manage cancer and other diseases. Without the participation of a diverse group of people who are willing to volunteer for experimental treatments, we would not be able to discover the next breakthrough in any disease.
I've met other metastatic breast cancer patients through Facebook groups and organizations like METAvivor . I think you have to meet people at the right time. The doctors answered my questions, but I realized that there are some things that only other patients understand. You can only get that surrounded by patients living the same things you're living. I can celebrate good scans with them and ask questions about their symptoms. It's a great community to have.
I need to share my MBC story as a Hispanic woman. We're caretakers, and we're often taught to keep going, keep going, keep going. Sometimes we wait until it's too late to take care of ourselves. People should know that if something doesn't feel right with your body, you need to seek care right away. We need to take care of ourselves first. It may be nothing - but it may be something. Advocate for yourself, seek the care you need, and take the time you need.
While there are different treatments for MBC, people do not know that some may not work well for me, or side effects may be so severe that I choose to stop them. Too many people do not understand these hard realities. When they hear the words breast cancer, they think there's always a treatment or a surgical option. It desperately needs more research and more treatment options. I want the world to know we deserve a lot more attention. Look past my external appearance. Even though I look healthy, that doesn't mean I'm not sick. Not paying attention isn’t fair to those who receive an MBC diagnosis. We need people to pay attention––to listen and be willing to learn. You have to listen, learn, and redirect resources and dollars to MBC research.