Erika Zamarripa: Learning to Live After Breast Cancer

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Erika Zamarripa breast cancer survivor San Antonio
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By Erika Zamarripa
San Antonio Cancer Survivor

There is that “C” word again.

Cancer can be defined as a “disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.” Or it also can be defined as a “practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate.”

Whatever you want to call it, it sucks.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 ER positive breast cancer at the age of 32 on Dec. 18, 2013. My twin boys were only 9 years old at the time and I was working at H-E-B Pharmacy.

I remember one day taking a shower and I felt a lump on my breast. This lump hurt when I touched it and the longer, I felt it, the more I started to worry. I called my gynecologist and made an appointment. He felt it and sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound. They said it was a mass and they would need to take a biopsy.

At this point my mind was all over the place, but the one thing for sure is that I kept telling myself that everything was going to be OK.

But it wasn’t OK. Well, for me it wasn’t.

When you are told you may have cancer, many of us think the worst. We can’t help it, our minds are not programmed to think, “this is what you do if you think you might have cancer.” Nope, there is no manual to that chapter in your life.

You then do the unthinkable, open the computer and Google away. If I knew then what I know now, don’t ever do that, never.

I remember just getting to work one morning and I received a call from my doctor. This is where my life changed forever. He said that he was very sorry, but the tumor was malignant. Now remember I am at work; I am not sure what to think at this point but I informed my manager and I went home.

On my way home I remember calling my mom and giving her the news, at this point I was in complete shock. Why is this happening? Am I going to die? What about my kids?

I had a million questions but no answers. This is normal, completely normal.

My doctor referred me to a oncologist and I immediately made my appointment. She laid down all the facts for me and told me that my cancer was very aggressive, we would have to begin treatment as soon as possible. From Dec. 18-31, I had a port placed in my chest and prepared for my first chemotherapy treatment, which was to take place on Jan. 2, 2014.

I spent New Year’s Eve with one of my best friends, and I knew at that point that it was the end of a year that I wished was the beginning of all years before.

The year of 2014 was filled with chemotherapy, pain, sickness, a double mastectomy, 30 rounds of radiation and complete hair loss.

I was not the woman I once was. The person I saw in the mirror was not me. I had one breast and no hair. I even tried the wigs, but they would itch my scalp and I would sweat so I did the whole scarf thing instead. My friends would tell me not to worry and stress about my hair, it would grow back, but it was my hair, it was who identified me, it is what made me feel like a woman. I remember a customer asking me one day if I had changed my religion. I was so self-conscious about my breasts as well, since I had a mastectomy only on one breast at the time, I covered up very well.

However, even through this difficult time, I am grateful to have had such a great support team by my side because without them I would probably not be here today. My mother especially, she took such great care of me and my boys. After chemo I would sleep for a whole day or two because being awake just made me more nauseous. My mom made it her mission to tend to me and my children. Thanks, mom.

Then 2015 comes around and, you know, there was a perk to having cancer. I not only got new breasts, but I also received a tummy tuck. Thanks to all the bad food I ate over the years, I was able to give it right back to my breasts. Who knew? Although this was a painful surgery, it was very well worth it. It was worth it all to have the feeling of being whole again.

So, what now? After treatment, surgeries and trying to regain the mental and physical strength to live a normal life, which to tell you the truth, it will never be normal again.

This is a good thing actually; it is like a whole new life. You are a whole new you and you value every aspect of your life. Don’t get me wrong, I will always have a phobia that when something hurts or feels off with my body, I will think of cancer. This is normal, anyone that has or had cancer will tell you this.

Life is so much more precious though. I know this because I am still here, and I am making every moment count. My children are happy. I even got married and adopted my step-children.

So now we are a household of four boys, my husband and I, and our two dogs. I work for an amazing company that supported me through my journey and I have an amazing support system. I am now doing many things like growing my career, I also teach part time and I am starting to write.

Life is good, it always has been, but it took me having cancer to realize that.

If cancer has taught me anything it is to be true to yourself because you are a fighter and you are here because the grace of God placed you on this earth to do great things and to love others as he loves you.

Read more survivor stories and news about breast cancer!

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 Erika Zamarripa of San Antonio.

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