4 Survivors. 4 Promises.

By austinfit – October 4, 2011

Breast Cancer affects all of us. We all know someone that has battled breast cancer, and hopefully we all know someone who has beaten it. As you probably know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (haven’t you noticed all the PINK?!) and the Austin Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen foundation is working harder than ever to raise awareness and find a cure for the most common cancer among women. This year’s Komen Austin Race for the Cure Guide features four cancer survivors and their stories, which are both inspiring and informative. Check out their stories here, and don’t forget to sign up for the Race for the Cure which will be held in downtown Austin November 13th, see you there!

Ana Sierra

I AM one in eight women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer.

I AM the face behind the money YOU raise for the Komen Austin Affiliate.

My husband and I moved to Texas in 2003 from Puerto Rico. Due to the transition and high cost of health insurance, I missed my annual exam and mammogram that year. The following spring, a friend told me that I could qualify to receive a low-cost mammogram from Seton, which received funding from the Komen Austin Affiliate for these types of services. I called, qualified and was scheduled to have a mammogram in Georgetown. Today, women and men may receive FREE breast cancer services from Seton and other healthcare organizations in the Komen Austin Affiliate’s five-county service area.

They found something on the mammogram. Further imaging and diagnostic procedures were scheduled because I had nothing to compare it to from the previous year. From there a core biopsy had to be done, and then I was referred to a surgeon. As soon as the surgeon called me with the bad news and recommended a mastectomy, my journey began.

I can only compare this journey to a hurricane season in Puerto Rico. What category would this be? What will it destroy? What will it leave behind—scars? Pain? Distress? Debris that will stay forever? After all, isn’t that what cancer is—a stage? A category?

I have scars, pain, and sometimes feel distress, and I have to pick-up the debris. I hate to think of the hard times, but I know it was relatively easy compared to other women. I know God is good and life is good. I have never questioned my destiny and never felt alone. In my journey, angels came forward in the form of nurses, surgeons and oncologists.

Seven years passed of living cancer FREE; however, I didn’t realize another hurricane season was around the corner. In October of last year, I went back for my annual appointment. After a few scans, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and was told that the cancer had spread to my liver, lungs and part of my sternum. I am currently going through chemotherapy and take a daily pill, which is part of a clinical trial, in hopes to help women in the future who may have to fight this disease.

I know of today and not of tomorrow. If there are women out there who can find comfort or inspiration in my journey, then I can say it has been worth it. We need a cure NOW. Every day that passes without a cure is one day too late for so many of us. Everyone deserves access to breast cancer care and education – that’s what YOUR dollars fund in our community.

So today I PROMISE to continue to be the face behind the monies raised by the Komen Austin Affiliate. For those who wonder if the money is used here in our community to fund breast cancer screening, treatment and education programs for those affected by breast cancer…HERE IS MY FACE! Your donations actually work!

Please join me in making a promise to fight breast cancer and share that promise with your friends, family and peers at the 2011 Komen Austin Race for the Cure on Nov. 13, 2011 in downtown Austin.

Ana Sierra
2011 Honorary Race Chair

Gary Vasey 

I have always been healthy as a cat my entire life. That is until I found a lump in my breast area in 2004 while showering. As a typical male, I didn’t think much of it until I noticed its rapid growth. In July of 2004, I finally decided to go to the doctor. We took a biopsy and the waiting game began. Eventually, the tests came back positive for breast cancer. I underwent surgery, at which time small traces of cancer were found in two of my primary lymph nodes. Two weeks later, I was back in surgery removing my lymph nodes under my right arm. We all figured that after chemotherapy for the next 18 weeks, I would be good to go back to normal life again.

Because I am estrogen receptor-positive, I had to counter the estrogen that promotes growth of cancer cells with oral hormone therapy, just as many women do for post-treatment. In January of 2010, I made it through my first five years just fine, and I was taken off of the hormone drug.

“Normal” life went on until July of 2010, when I noticed a lump had appeared on my chest almost overnight. I spent the weekend waiting for it to disappear, but it didn’t. I was diagnosed again, promptly had surgery and then sent into treatment. I went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments for the second time, finishing up this past February. I had a follow-up PET scan in April with great results; I am clear of cancer!

I have a great team of doctors here in Austin, all compassionate and true professionals. They determined that the second occurrence was the result of small traces of cancer left in the lymph nodes in my chest area from my previous bout with cancer in 2004. When I stopped the hormone therapy pill in January of 2010, it was a signal for the tumors to begin growing again and, in only six months, the tumor located between my ribs had grown to such a large size that it surfaced on my chest. Because it was visible, I could do something about it.

I am a very fortunate man, and these experiences have opened my eyes to life. I have the greatest wife who has loved, cared and supported me through both battles. My family members, friends and my church fellowship members have provided love and prayers. Through this experience, I have truly accepted God in my life. My job and sports officiating associates were concerned and considerate; they continued to keep me involved by allowing me to run the game clocks on Friday nights while I was going through chemotherapy.

I always tried to live my life as normally as possible throughout my treatments and maintain a very positive attitude – I feel this is a key to successful recovery. I PROMISE to help inform people, more specifically males, that this is a disease that CAN affect them. They need to be aware of their bodies, listen and react when something is not quite right. Remember, I too was healthy until I got breast cancer.

Gary Vasey

Natalie Young

We have all heard that there are two sides to every story. The same can be said for my breast cancer story.

In August of 2009, at the age of 28, I felt a lump in my breast during my morning shower. I convinced myself it was nothing, but I called the gynecologist just in case.

I went to my doctor’s office that same afternoon. Exactly two-weeks later after a mammogram, an ultrasound, a fine needle aspiration and even a lumpectomy to remove my “abnormal” cells, I was told that I had triple negative breast cancer.

That came as a shock to me since we have no family history of breast cancer, I was in the best shape I’d been in since high school and had breastfed my daughter for 13 months. I felt I was so healthy that when the doctors would ask who was my primary care physician…I didn’t have one! I was a healthy person with no primary care physician, but now I have an oncologist?

I underwent many surgeries, including a double mastectomy, and had six rounds of chemotherapy. I finished my treatment in February of 2010 and had my final reconstructive surgery last November. I can now say that’s it. I’m done. No more surgeries, no more chemotherapy treatments. I’m done. But that’s just one side of my story.

I am a breast cancer SURVIVOR. In the past year and a half, I have endured more medically than some people do in their entire lifetime. I’ve learned so much about myself and realized how strong I can be. I have an adorable 4-and-a-half year-old daughter, who, at the age of three, knew what cancer and chemotherapy meant. She also knew that pink, her favorite color, meant “go away cancer.”

I used to spend so much money on hair colors, cuts and products and was always trying new styles. Now I can really say I’ve tried them all by shaving my head. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would shave my head. You see, cancer didn’t make my hair fall out; I chose to shave it! Now, I have a shorter hairstyle than I ever would have imagined for myself, but it’s by far my favorite look to date. I love when I am asked “what made you decide to cut your hair so short?” It’s a great opportunity to share my story with others.

In the past, I had always participated in the Komen Austin Race for the Cure. It was a great thing to do and you got a free t- shirt, so why not? Now, I’m passionate about the Race and putting an end to breast cancer. I don’t just race in the “free t-shirt” anymore – I AM one of the ones in the pink shirt. I AM who you are running for.

That’s the other side of my story and it’s NOWHERE near finished. It’s really just beginning. I PROMISE that you can live life after breast cancer! I’m doing it and so can you!

Natalie Young

Donna Mercer

Knowing my family history saved my life!

My mother died from breast cancer, as did my grandmother AND other female relatives. Because of this, I was labeled “high-risk” and started having mammograms at the young age of 22. I had several issues with fibroid tumors in my breast, but they were usually reported as negative for cancer.

After 14 years of receiving regular mammograms and several false alarms, I unfortunately heard the words “you have breast cancer.” As a mother of two, I felt overwhelmed and saddened by this diagnosis. I kept telling myself that I had to live for my children; I had to be here to see them grow-up!

I needed to talk to someone, so I turned to my brother, a pastor, who reassured me that I would be okay. I also contacted a local breast cancer organization where I met a network of survivors and lifetime friends, who encouraged and assisted me to do my research to find out the best options for my battle with breast cancer.

Through my research, I learned that genes play an important role when determining your breast cancer treatment and surgery. Who knew that family history and my genetic make-up would have an affect on MY breast cancer story?

I had the BRCA test, and a mutation was found. Due to learning those results and countless hours of research, coupled with the aggressive nature of my breast cancer, I was able to choose the right surgical procedure to reduce recurrence. I was then treated with chemotherapy for eight months followed by eight months of oral hormone therapy.

Today, I am happy to say that I am cancer FREE! Now I must think of my daughter, four biological sisters and their daughters. I PROMISE to educate the community on the importance of knowing your family history. Take a moment to ask your relatives if there is a history of this disease in your family. If so, talk to your doctor about how this affects your risk of getting breast cancer.

Donna Mercer


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