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By Cynthia Delgado
San Antonio, Texas, Cancer Survivor
At age 43, I was living a life that consisted of routine exercise, healthy eating, and at the weight I had always wanted to be.
I had been seeing a breast surgeon routinely every 3 months for at least 1-and-a-half years because I had fibrocystic breast. Mammograms were a part of my life since my early 20s because I always had lumps, i.e., cysts. The older I got, the more cysts would develop. They would grow very big and would be excruciating painful for a minimum of 10 minutes.
Because I started getting anywhere from 5-10 cysts on each side, my OBGYN referred me to a specialist. It became routine for the specialist to aspirate them every 3 months, and they would pop up in different places.
On May 15, 2015, I went for my regular follow-up appointment, and at the time I had another lump develop on the side of my right breast. It was in the exact same area where I had a cyst that was aspirated 6 months earlier, so naturally I thought it was the same thing.
When the doctor felt the lump, she also believed it was a cyst, so she got everything ready to aspirate it. As she attempted to remove the cyst, she immediately told me that it was a lesion. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but knew it was serious because her demeanor changed quickly. That same day I was scheduled for an emergency mammogram and a biopsy was done. The doctor was very solemn and didn’t talk much when I went in for the biopsy; by then she had already talked to the radiologist about mammogram results. When I asked about the results, all she said was, “It was concerning.”
At that moment, I knew what that meant, and took a deep breath to keep myself from falling apart.
The biopsy results were rushed, so 3 days later, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It was growing at a 70% growth rate and wasn’t there 3 months earlier when I had seen her. A week later I had the port put in; 2 weeks after that I was getting the first of six chemo treatments; a month after completing chemo, I had a double mastectomy with expanders; then a month after that I started 33 rounds of radiation. My last radiation treatment was on Dec. 31, 2015.
I was in fight mode the whole time. At the stroke of midnight into 2016, I broke down crying because I couldn’t believe all that happened. Thankfully I was at the start of my post-cancer journey, although not realizing what that meant as well.
I started reconstruction in 2016 and finally completed my last reconstructive surgery in January 2019. That was a painful and long walk of life in itself. I had implants put in, then exactly a month later the cancer side rejected the implant and had emergency surgery to remove it. For six months I had to live with a flat chest on the right side and implant on left side. Thankfully, my doctor was able to reconstruct the right breast with my stomach fat (Diep Flap). Living with two different types of breast sure does beat the alternative. I had 5 reconstructive surgeries and total 7 surgeries in my journey.
Living life after cancer has been very challenging.
I look normal and healthy on the outside, but I feel like I’m coming apart inside. Chemo kicked me into menopause so I get the hot flashes and constantly deal with female health issues. Chemo brain was extremely horrible and still affects me today. I battled with my energy and struggled with the fact that I had to understand that things would never be the same for me.
I had to accept my new normal, meaning that I had learn to be OK with the after-effects of cancer, and what it did to my body. My bone density is at an osteopenia stage, and my whole-body aches to this day. It’s hard to get up quickly after sitting for a while. When I do get up, I feel like I’m walking like I’m old lady. I also developed lymphedema, so I consistently manage the swelling in my right arm and hand.
God has shown me favor and has blessed me with life, so regardless of all the post-cancer symptoms, I’m very blessed to have life.
I knew from the first day that God was in control; he was the one who carried me through this and has kept me sane. Unfortunately, cancer has taken my father, grandfather, close cousin, and recently my very dear brother.
It’s been hard, but with God, my husband, family, close friends, and BFF Support group, I have been able endure the life story I was destined to have.
God also put beautiful angels in my life who were breast cancer survivors, or who had been touched by a survivor in order to help me along the way. I called those moments “God sightings.” He was working through them to tell me that everything was going to be OK.
Out of nowhere, complete strangers approached me to tell me they were survivors. Those were definitely aha moments!
This journey has shown me that life is too short, and we have to live to the fullest. It has also shown me that I need to share my story to anyone who is willing to listen because God will use me as an angel for someone else, just like the ones who were there for me.
Lastly, I can truly say we are all warriors, and warriors fight and do not give up.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of guest blog posts from Breast Friends Forever (BFF) in San Antonio, Texas (64% Latino). BFF is a support group that enables young breast cancer survivors to share stories and experiences, developed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio (the team behind Salud America!) and Susan G. Komen San Antonio. Email BFF or Visit BFF on Facebook. The main image above features Brenda Garza of San Antonio, one of the co-founders of the BFF support group.