In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I thought I’d take the time to talk about my own experience with this illness.
When I was about 6 years old, my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. This was back in early 2000’s when there was still the stigma around “cancer” basically meaning “death”. When my mom, who was recently divorced and raising two kids on her own, sat my brother and I down and told us about her illness, I asked her if she was going to die. In a soft and motherly tone my mom replied that she didn’t know but that she would try her best not to. At the time of course I didn’t understand the severity of her words or of the question I had even asked. I can say however that her honesty was the best thing she could have done for me as a kid.
Visiting my mom at the hospital for almost a year was definitely something very normal for me. While she was recovering from surgeries and undergoing chemotherapy I learned a lot about using my time wisely. I knew that when school was over it was time to visit Mami at the hospital. I knew that the times she was at home were times I should hang with her. I understood that sometimes I couldn't go to school because my mom was not feeling well and things could take a turn for the worse very soon. This may all sound super dark for a childhood but it was the best childhood I could have asked for.
The reason I loved my childhood so much was because I got to learn the value of time from a very early age. I knew that any time I got with my mom whether it was at the hospital or at home was time that we were surprised she had to give us. When she was diagnosed she was given a 30% chance of survival. So when the days passed by, then the months, then the year and she was still around, I was beyond happy that the universe kept giving me the gift of time with my mom.
It was a miracle that my mom was able to recover from her breast cancer and thank goodness she did because I don't know what I would've done without her. She afterwards started a foundation designed to help Hispanic women with breast cancer who live in the United States. This was because she saw first hand how underserved her community was and due to her platform in the public eye she knew she could make a change. The Mayte Prida Foundation has been around for about 15 years now and the amount of women it has helped has been remarkable. I couldn’t be more proud of my mom!
In the last 15 years or so I have learned more about breast cancer than someone my age probably should know but I am here to share the biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far. I have met women who lived incredibly healthy lifestyles and yet still got diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve met women who have been diagnosed and were left by their husbands because according to them “breast cancer takes away womanhood” and the husbands did not find that attractive. I’ve met women who were incredibly wealthy and had all the quality care they could imagine and yet they still passed away from this illness. I’ve also met women, like my mom, who had tested negative from the BRCA gene and yet were still diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s almost impossible to figure out why this illness (along with any other tragedy really) strikes us. I don’t know why, in the year 2019 in a first world country where there is more money and resources than ever before, we still cannot figure out how to stop the mutation of cancerous cells. But I’ve given up on trying to figure out the grand mystery of why breast cancer affects so many innocent and beautiful women (and men might I add). I constantly think about what will we do with the time we have right now?
I do not wish for everyone to live their daily lives with the worry that something tragic can happen at any moment. I find that mentality to be more harmful than productive. It can constantly make us feel like we are walking on eggshells, also it definitely encourages us to blow all our money. So scratch that mindset! Instead we should encourage each other to appreciate the time we already have and think about what are some changes we can make to live happier moments.
Breast cancer affects 12% of women in the U.S every year and 2% of men. The illness of cancer affects 1.7 million people annually in the U.S. Whether or not someone is diagnosed is a little out of our hands. What is in our control is the time we have right now and I think it's about time to vivir and do what we want every day we are given this gift.