Latinas and Breast Cancer– It’s Personal!
Watching her sister go through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment was a very difficult time in Linda Taveras life. After a self-breast exam, her sister, Brenda Torres, found a lump. Brenda came to her sister and said “I have something in my breast”. Linda urged her to see a doctor, but every time her sister went to the doctor she never brought it up. Then in late October 1999, Brenda went in for a regular yearly OBGYN appointment and a clinical breast exam was performed. A biopsy was ordered immediately.
Brenda was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in November 1999 at the age of 30. After 2 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was given prophylaxis medication and was told that her cancer was in remission. Brenda remained cancer free for over 12 years. Although she did not have symptoms, the mother of five was diagnosed with Leukemia in early 2012. “I remember the doctors telling her that it (Leukemia) could have been caused by the radiation she received when she was treated 12 years ago” explains Linda. Brenda received a bone marrow transplant, which her body ultimately rejected. She got a series of tests, more chemotherapy, a mammogram, an ultrasound and an MRI. Shortly following her Leukemia diagnosis, she was told that the breast cancer was no longer in remission, it had also returned.
“It was very difficult” says Linda. ”She made the decision to get a mastectomy and continue chemotherapy. After several months of treatment, the doctors told her that the chemo wasn’t working. In April 2012 she was told that she had less than 6 months to live. My sister didn’t tell anyone, not even me”.
Breast Cancer Awareness in the Latina Community
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink ribbons adorn everything from buses to NFL uniforms. According to the National Cancer Institute, one Latina in the U.S. dies from breast cancer every 90 minutes. Not only is it the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Latinas, but it is also the leading cause of cancer deaths among them. Genetic research is ongoing in hopes of understanding how ethnicity and race as well as behavioral, environmental, and biological factors play a role in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Later diagnoses and a higher mortality rate are often seen among Latinas because preventative care is often overlooked. Other factors such as socioeconomic status and lack of access to health care further hinder Latinas from receiving adequate breast cancer screenings. To foster awareness about breast cancer detection, Procter & Gamble’s Orgullosa, an online community dedicated to celebrate, empower, and fuel Latinas’ accomplishments and dreams, is partnering with Liga Contra el Cáncer to further along the dialogue among the Latino community about the importance of taking action & preparing an early detection plan. The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that when breast cancer is detected early, in the localized stage, the 5-year survival rate is 98%. As a result, the National Breast Cancer Foundation developed an Early Detection Plan App. The Early Detection Plan App enables you to be proactive about your health by reminding you to do monthly breast self-exams and schedule clinical breast exams and mammograms based on your age and health history. The American Cancer Society recommends a clinical breast exam (an examination by a doctor or nurse) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Self-breast examinations are also highly recommended and any changes in how your breasts look and feel should be reported to a health care provider.
“I am passionate about getting the word out on the importance of self-breast exams and not waiting. If you feel something, pay attention and see your doctor.” says Linda.
Linda is walking in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in New York in memory of her sister Brenda Torres, whom passed away on June 26, 2012 at the age of 44.