Doreen Garza knows how breast cancer can affect its victims and their families.
Her youngest sister was diagnosed with a rare subtype of the disease called triple negative receptor breast cancer at the age of 36. She had a lump that was not addressed for a year.
"Needless to say, my whole family was shocked to hear of the news," said Garza, executive director of The University of Texas-Pan American Border Health Office. "We could not understand it - there was no reason why she should have breast cancer...at least not because of genetics, and besides she was too young. One thing my little sister and my whole family have learned since is that breast cancer is not just one form of cancer, but many different subtypes of cancer. My little sister is a survivor and continues her fight today."
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To commemorate this very important month, the UTPA Border Health Office hosted a seminar called Vidas Sanas - Women's Health: Breast Cancer Awareness on Friday, Oct. 1 at the UTPA Annex. The seminar offered information and support to those affected by breast cancer. More than 125 women and men representing health and human service agencies from across the Rio Grande Valley attended the four-hour seminar, which included inspirational stories and testimonies from breast cancer survivors, breast cancer awareness information and demonstrations on breast prostheses and hair loss accessories from the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Throughout the month, the American Cancer Society is encouraging women to put their breast health first to stay well and reduce their risk of breast cancer. The Society also reminds women ages 40 and older about the importance of receiving a mammogram and clinical breast exam every year to find the disease in its earliest, most treatable stage. On average, mammography will detect 80 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women without symptoms.
"More than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors will celebrate a birthday this year thanks to early detection and improved treatment," said Tina Longoria, community manager of health initiatives at the American Cancer Society.
Vanessa Espinoza, a health education coordinator for the UTPA Border Health Office, said she was moved by the speech given by Abby Vela, a registered nurse, marketing director for the Women's Clinic of South Texas and a breast cancer survivor, who shared her experiences battling the disease.
"I have the utmost respect for this woman, and to all women who have been in her shoes who have felt the pain, heart ache, struggles, and tears that Ms. Vela has felt. This will definitely be an event that I will never forget," Espinoza said.
Triny Soto, a community health worker at the Border Health Office and lead organizer of the event, said her commitment as a woman requires her to talk about breast cancer.
"Breast cancer can affect us as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and as a human being. This October, let the community join and learn from these women who are in the fight against breast cancer...these women who have taught us to protect and care for the miracle that is life," she said.
Suzan Aldairi, office manager at the Hope Cancer Clinic-Cancer Center at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, said the event was one of the best she has ever attended.
"The event was well attended, well organized, and very educational," Aldairi said. "I was amazed at the amount of ladies present. There was a special camaraderie between them all."