I was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 26, 2018. I had just turned 36 and my year had already been rough. After having to leave my hometown, losing a relationship of five years and moving to Dallas all on my own, I had finally found my groove.
I was in great shape, had made wonderful friends and was — finally — leaving all my past behind and enjoying the present. Until, of course, December 26th… I was a perfectly healthy woman and yet, I was not really healthy at all. It was hard for me to understand. How is this happening to me?
I was in Puerto Rico enjoying some family time but didn’t want to ruin everyone’s Christmas holiday by telling them I had cancer. Better go back to Dallas and get all the details before I make any moves. I went into my appointment with Dr. Joanne Blum with my best friend Julie and even bought myself a new outfit. Whatever the diagnosis, this cancer was not bringing me down — of that I was certain.
Whatever the diagnosis, this cancer was not bringing me down — of that I was certain.
Dr. Blum patiently explained our treatment plan, including six months of chemotherapy with four different types of medication and a mastectomy afterwards. She said my tumor was not going to disappear but that it could shrink and that was the purpose of the treatment. She also told me my cancer was likely genetic, which is why I was not of the “normal age” for breast cancer. I said, “Genetic? What does that even mean?”
If indeed my cancer was genetic, I would need a double mastectomy but Dr. Blum said we would talk about that when we got there. One step at a time.
It was a lot of information and many life-changing decisions to make, but I needed to start the treatment as soon as possible! Dr. Blum told me my tumor was aggressive and growing fast. I thought, of course I’m not getting a nice tumor. I’m getting a mean one. That night, I got all dressed up and went out with my friends to celebrate and welcome 2019, whatever it may bring! I thought to myself, well, whatever is going to happen is not happening today. And today, I am claiming that I shall have a long and happy life.
Bring it on, chemotherapy!
There was so much to do in such little time. My hair was going to fall out — what was I going to do about that? I mean, who wants to be bald? So, I researched wigs and scarves and thanks to YouTube, I know how to wrap a scarf in more than five ways. I know that bamboo fabric is a great choice for cancer patients because it breathes and avoids infections. I also discovered that jersey is the easiest fabric to wrap.
I started chemo on February 8th. I also signed up for a spin class at 6 a.m. that very day. If I could take this, I can do anything.
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That was the first day I got my port (ouch). That was also the first time I met Taylor, my oncology nurse and the best one out there (with all respect to all the other great nurses). My mother also traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to accompany me through this journey. Every step of the way, I knew I was never alone.
After visiting a geneticist, the results showed that my cancer was indeed genetic. I had the BRCA2 genetic mutation. My mother was a carrier but since she had fortunately never been affected, I had no clue I was under such risk. Having BRCA2 meant that I was not only susceptible to breast cancer but also ovarian cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer. Well, I did always feel like I was special! I just didn’t know I was that special.
Fueling my positive energy to fight
I am and have always been a human of high energy. The adjustment from having energy all the time to not having it was, let’s say, a challenge. Therefore, I needed to find a way to thrive through this. I had to find a way of not losing myself through this process. I had to take chemo every two Fridays for the first two months and then every Friday for the next four.
I decided to buy a flip chart and write inspirational notes and hang them all over my room, so the first thing I would see every morning would be, “Good morning, cancer-free Elvira! Today is a great day.” I also decided that I would look like a rock star every Friday, even though it became increasingly difficult to do so since every Friday, I was more tired than the past one.
I feel powerful and beautiful. I’m proud to say that cancer hates me and I’m honored to share my story in hopes of inspiring someone else to fight and fight hard.
But it gave me purpose. Every time I walked into that hospital, I knew we were closer to not having cancer. As time passed, my tumor disappeared! That unknown prognosis of this BRCA2 positive breast cancer patient was now getting better and better.
Even after the mastectomy, there was a chance the cancer wasn’t completely gone. But I felt confident in myself and in my care team. Every step of the way, my doctors and nurses were there to guide me.
Today, I feel great. I feel powerful and beautiful. I’m proud to say that cancer hates me and I’m honored to share my story in hopes of inspiring someone else to fight and fight hard.
This blog post was written by cancer survivor and fighter, Elvira Velez. Follow along with Elvira as she documents her journey through her blog, A Beautiful Attitude, and through Instagram and Facebook.
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