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Survivor Makes Peace With Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Article date: August 18, 2010

Aleida Rodriguez

I wish I had never become a member of the breast cancer club. But I'm in it now. I'm a survivor. And things are all right.

 

Aleida Rodriguez, 42, of Phoenix, Arizona, isn’t one of those breast cancer survivors who thinks of her cancer as a blessing. If she could magically go back and never have had breast cancer, she would. But she learned a lot through her experience and believes now that things happened in the way they were supposed to.

In January 2007, Rodriguez moved from Texas to Arizona and got married that September. In January 2008, she went to a new OBGYN for an annual checkup. Even though she didn’t have any family history of breast cancer, Rodriguez requested a mammogram. She had had an abnormal one in the past, back when she lived in Texas. Her doctor initially discouraged her: “You're young; you don't need to get that every year yet." Rodriguez, who was 40 at the time, insisted.

The patient's side of the doctor-patient equation

She had the mammogram that February, and the tech found an abnormal area in her right breast. She was called back for an ultrasound, at which point the doctor recommended a biopsy. Two days later she was told it was cancer.

Rodriguez remembers the day vividly.

“It was March 19, 2008. I’ll never forget the date,” she says. “At about 4:45 in the afternoon I was getting ready to go home from work. My phone rang. It was the doctor. I had breast cancer. The doctor asked me if I had any questions. I didn't at the time. I couldn't think of what to ask.”

She went to see a breast surgeon who had been recommended by her doctor.

“From the first consultation, I liked my breast surgeon,” Rodriguez recalls. “She talked TO ME. My husband sat next to me, but her eyes never left me. I was the patient. I was the one with cancer. I was the one she would be operating on. I was who she was speaking to. One of the things she said was ‘You're too young to be here, but you're lucky you're here.’"

In April, Rodriguez had a lumpectomy, but it didn’t remove all of the cancer, so she had a mastectomy. In May, her doctor put in a temporary implant, and in June, after talking to 4 different oncologists, she began chemotherapy.

Of her oncologist, she says: “One thing I liked was the answer he gave when my husband asked him how he would treat this cancer if it were his wife. He said he wouldn't know what to do, that he likely wouldn't be able to think straight knowing it was his wife. He was honest. He seemed to understand the patient side of the doctor and patient equation.”

Coping with hair loss

Rodriguez had 4 chemotherapy sessions over the course of 3 months. During that time, she lost her long, brown curly hair – something she says was the most difficult part of the experience.

“My hair is part of my identity. I had had long hair for as long as I could remember. Before the chemotherapy, I cut it short so losing it wouldn’t be as traumatic,” she says.

Prior to the chemotherapy, she got a wig and some advice from the American Cancer Society’s Look Good...Feel Better program, which offers cancer patients beauty tips to improve how they look during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I wore the wig and scarves. I also tried to wear makeup and jewelry like the women at Look Good...Feel Better had shown me.”

Other than the hair loss, Rodriguez tolerated the chemotherapy well and was able to continue her work at her job as a polygraphic examiner for the government.

In October 2008, Rodriguez had reconstructive surgery.

'I'm a survivor'

Now, more than 2 years later, Rodriguez says she is still emotional about the experience, but feels things were meant to happen the way they did.

“My husband and I cried a lot going through this - the initial shock of the news, the lumpectomy, the mastectomy, the scans, the chemotherapy, the reconstruction, and the uncertainty that accompanied it all,” Rodriguez says. “But I've met some wonderful people: doctors, nurses, volunteers - people it seems who were put on this earth to do what they do for others.”

Her hair is almost completely back to the length it was before chemotherapy. And she and her husband are planning an anniversary trip to Spain that they had to put off because of her treatment.

“I wish I had never become a member of the breast cancer club,’ Rodriguez says. “But I'm in it now. I'm a survivor. And things are alright.”