Nutrition has always played a big role in Maria Rivas’ life, and she made a point to stay on top of her well-being. Even at age 70, she’d never had any health issues. When Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was shocked.
“I never expected to hear that news,” she remembered. “I didn’t have any discomfort or pain.”
Last December, Maria went in for a routine mammogram. In the days following the appointment, she received a call from her doctor telling her that she would need a second mammogram and an ultrasound. This raised some questions in her head, but she didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t too worried.
When she learned she had stage 2 breast cancer, the first thing she asked her doctor was, “How much time do I have?”
Maria had a family history of cancer: Her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer many years prior, and her dad had had prostate cancer.
“Knowing that my sister had cancer, I was scared to even talk about it, or learn that I might get it too,” she said.
Since Maria’s breast cancer was caught early and the lump was small, her doctors were hopeful.
Earlier this year, Maria underwent a lumpectomy. While the tumor was biopsied, she met with her doctor, oncologist, and radiologist, who all remained optimistic that she would not need any further treatments. But, after the biopsy results came back three weeks later, they revealed she would have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation.
“When I learned I had to have chemotherapy, I felt at peace. If there was anything left in my breast––be it large or microscopic––knowing it would be treated comforted me,” she said.
While she held this mindset, nothing could fully prepare her for the side effects of treatment. About a week before her third chemotherapy session, she lost all her hair and her appetite. Her sense of taste shifted.
“Every chemotherapy session meant I had to get better for the next one,” she said. “I was calm because I knew it was a big process—and this too would pass.”
After chemotherapy, came radiation, which she finished this past summer.
Through it all, she found her two daughters and six grandchildren to be her biggest support system.
“One of the strongest medicines I’ve received throughout this process was their support,” she said. “My grandkids rub my bald head and say, ‘You look beautiful with no hair.’”
Now with treatment over, Maria wants to advocate for others. As someone who benefitted from early detection, she is passionate about the importance of not ignoring your health and keeping up with annual mammograms.
“One thing I learned is that we are not invincible. We must be prepared in life because it can change at any second,” she said. “I thought it’s never going to happen to me. But I’ve learned if diagnosed early we can get through this.”
Maria also feels she has benefited from research—and that only through research will we continue to discover more ways to treat women with breast cancer, improve existing therapies, and save lives.
“Research is the reason millions of women are alive—including me. The treatments that I have received are saving and extending my life,” she said.
Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.
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