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News of a cancer diagnosis is the last thing anyone wants to hear.
It can be especially devastating for a teenager with no family history of cancer.
That was reality for Amber Lopez.
Lopez, a San Antonio resident who began experiencing symptoms around age 14, was eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer a few years later at 18.
“When you hear that word cancer, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, my God. OK. So, does that mean like, I’m going to pass away? How does this work?’” Lopez said.
Since her diagnosis, Lopez has overcome many challenges in her cancer journey.
Now she’s sharing her story through the Avanzando Caminos study at UT Health San Antonio to give hope to other Latino cancer survivors.
Navigating Her Cancer Diagnosis
Latinas have higher rates of cervical cancer than their peers.
For Lopez, she started to experience symptoms as a youth around 2012. She was officially diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016.
“Not having any biological history of it on either side of the family, I was completely just shocked more than anything,” Lopez said.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Lopez grew up with her siblings, including her twin sister and her mother, who Lopez says has been one of her biggest supporters.
“Literally, since the beginning of … having these symptoms and stuff, my mom has always been with me through this journey,” Lopez said.
Even with her family’s support, Amber spoke of how uncomfortable it could be through the treatment process.
“I definitely will say the overwhelming part was a lot of pinching, poking, biopsies. That’s very traumatic to me,” Lopez said.
Lopez showed much gratitude for her doctor at University Health System, who helped her through the process.
Even after overcoming the hardest parts of cancer, survival is still not easy for Lopez.
“I still struggle with it, sometimes, again, only being 26 and having, not a full hysterectomy, but a partial,” Lopez said. “I didn’t have anybody around my age to kind of express what I was going through what I was feeling.”
A Miracle Through the Cancer Struggle
Even amid her struggle with cancer, Lopez found a silver lining with the birth of her daughter.
“She is my literal miracle baby, after experiencing all this kind of stuff with my cancer,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t feel more blessed knowing that I do have a little girl and that I’m going to be able to be there for her.”
Through her experiences, Lopez wants to share her story with other who could relate to her situation.
This would ultimately lead to her decision to participate in the Avanzando Caminos (Leading Pathways): The Hispanic/Latino Cancer Survivorship Study at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio.
The Avanzando Caminos study, led by Dr. Amelie Ramirez, is teaming up with local Latino cancer survivors – like Vasquez Felsing – to help unpack the social, cultural, behavioral, mental, biological, and medical influences on post-cancer life.
A member of the study team reached out to see if Lopez was interested in joining.
“I like to talk about, I was so excited to tell my mom about it,” Lopez said.
Lopez has enjoyed being able to share her experiences as a participant in the study.
“The fact that they’re willing to just listen,” Lopez said. “I really feel like I can connect with the people that I’ve encountered with the study.”
Latinos represent less than 10% of volunteers in cancer clinical trials.
This lack of representation in clinical research makes it harder for researchers to find treatments tailored for this group, which now makes up 19.1% of the total U.S. population.
“I want to get my story out there and just kind of be an advocate for someone that could possibly be as young as I was when everything happened, or even younger, you know, giving that insight. Because I mean, I didn’t have that,” Lopez said.
Become a Part of the Avanzando Caminos Study
You can be like Amber Lopez!
The Avanzando Caminos study aims to enroll 1,500 Latino cancer survivors in South Texas and 1,500 more in Miami to better understand the Latino experience after cancer.
“With the help of Latino cancer survivors, we can help future Latino cancer survivors heal, recover, and reduce the chance for cancer to come back,” Dr. Ramirez said.
Avanzando Caminos volunteers should be:
- Age 18+ and able to read in English or Spanish
- Willing to attend study visits
- Completed primary treatment for breast, colon, kidney, liver, lung, prostate, stomach or uterine cervix carcinoma in past 10 years
- No severe cognitive impairment or inpatient psychiatric treatment in past 6 months
Volunteers receive $50 per visit.
To volunteer, contact Dr. Ramirez’s Avanzando Caminos team at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio at email@example.com or 210-562-6514.
Dr. Ramirez continues to help Latinos volunteer for cancer and Alzheimer’s clinical trials.
Through Salud America!, she is highlighting open clinical trials, conducting webinars, and sharing stories of real Latino clinical trial participants to overcome clinical trial barriers. This work is supported by Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.
“Latinos who volunteer in clinical trials are helping themselves. And they’re building a future with better treatments that can help their families in the years to come,” Dr. Ramirez said.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.