Growing up as a young Latina, we tend to often have a love-hate relationship with our natural-born, feminine curves. For me, I quickly learned to embrace my perky C-cup breasts because, as a rather petite 5’1” female, I lacked the voluminous curves in my bottom half. So I was always happy with the curves that God had granted me. What I never realized, though, was how much these curves distinguished my womanhood. That was, until I lost them to breast cancer.
Diagnosis & Treatment
One evening in October 2010, as I performed a self-breast exam, I discovered a lump in my left breast. I would learn two weeks later, after a breast ultrasound and biopsy, that I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer known to hit younger women and Latinas. This news also came just days after learning I was pregnant. Exactly a month after my diagnosis, I was scheduled to lose my left breast in a mastectomy that would completely remove the fast-growing tumor and all potentially infected breast tissue and ultimately save my life.
A month after my left mastectomy, I began the toxic onslaught of chemotherapy to further ensure that my body would be rid of the cancer. I did this all while pregnant. Chemo caused me to lose my beautiful, long, dark black hair, as well as my eyebrows and eyelashes. It also turned my fingernails black and completely dried out my skin and scalp.
Giving birth to Serenity
As the months went on and I grew weak due to the poison that was invading my body, my right breast began to grow as to prepare for motherhood. However, I knew I would never be able to breastfeed my baby. After a long, tough battle, my pregnant body had enough and my blessing arrived on April 20, 2011 when Serenity Milagros Shelbon was born. Although her arrival was 6 weeks premature, Serenity was born perfectly healthy and with a head full of hair – unlike her mommy at the time. That alone made my heart smile.
I quickly recovered from chemotherapy as well as childbirth and learned a month later, after routine scans, that the cancer was gone. However, armed with the facts of triple negative breast cancer and combined with my desire to live a long, happy life with my daughter, I chose to undergo a preventive right mastectomy to remove my remaining breast. I chose to have this surgery on the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. That decision was by no means an easy one. In fact, giving up the only remaining feminine curve I had left was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. But I did it anyway in the best interest of my health.
My Life After Breast Cancer
When I look in the mirror today, cleavage-less and with a chest full of scars, it doesn’t bother me anymore than stretch marks do a proud new mommy. While it would be nice if we didn’t have those constant reminders of what our bodies have endured, I now know our battle wounds are there for a reason – to remind us of our inner strength.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a loving partner that stood by my side through this entire journey. While he always loved my feminine curves, I learned through my battle that he loves me much more for who I am inside. He fully supports whatever reconstruction option I choose to undergo next year.
As Latinas, we don’t always appreciate our curves until we’ve truly learned to embrace our body. Breast cancer taught me to love myself inside and out, to never take anything for granted and, most of all, how strong I truly am. Now I have the scars to prove it.
“Breast Cancer has invaded my body, but it need not invade my spirit. There may be scars on my chest, but there need not be scars on my heart.” – Judy Kneece
Roxanne Martinez is a one-year breast cancer survivor that lives in Fort Worth, Texas. She is enjoying motherhood and working as a freelance writer and marketing/PR consultant. She actively volunteers with organizations such as Susan G. Komen, United Way, Cancer Care Services and Hope for Two and serves as an active alumnae member of her sorority, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority. For more information, visit www.team-roxy.com.