Miriam T.

Breast Cancer

Miriam Trejo

My experience at CTCA was consistently empowering. I was always included in the decision-marking process, and my Care Team was exactly that—a team of caring people—who ended up as lifelong friends.

I was 29 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2014. My husband and I were still newlyweds, filled with plans for our long life together. The first time I suspected something wasn’t right was two years earlier, when I felt a lump on my right breast. My gynecologist ordered an ultrasound, but the test results were normal. A year later, I told my gynecologist that the lump was still there and new ones had appeared.  She ordered a second ultrasound, which also came back normal. I remember her reassuring me that there was nothing wrong and that my dense breasts were normal for my age. I wanted to believe that my breasts felt normal, but I knew something wasn’t right. This was not normal to me. 

The third time I saw my gynecologist after the first lump appeared, I had more symptoms to report. There was a dark spot on my areola. There was crustiness and discharge from my nipple. I had sharp, shooting pains in my chest. There was no way all this was normal. I asked to be tested with something other than an ultrasound, and she ordered an MRI, a test that was more likely than a mammogram to be covered by my insurance and reveal any cancer present in my breasts.

As I lay in the MRI machine, I felt oddly calm. I had a sense of relief knowing that today I would have the answers I had been searching for. I would finally have a solid diagnosis. When the radiologist told me that I needed an urgent mammogram, an urgent ultrasound and an urgent biopsy, that sense of calm disappeared. I knew that what I’d been suspecting for months was about to become a reality.

After several sleepless nights, I had a biopsy. The results revealed that I had HER2-positive breast cancer, as well as Paget’s disease of the breast. And even though I’d been concerned about that first lump in my breast for nearly two years at that point, I was entirely unprepared for the shock of the diagnosis. My heart raced, and the tears streamed down my face. My husband held me close to him as tears streamed down his face, too. Later that day, we told our families.

No longer a victim

My father-in-law, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, suggested that I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), which I did. The first call was encouraging, and the paperwork process that followed was fast and easy. Next thing I knew, we were at the hospital for an initial consultation. As we toured the facility, I saw people smiling and hugging one another. Had I walked into a hospital or a resort? I wasn’t entirely sure. Our tour guide was very informative and was also a cancer survivor who spoke to me about his personal experience. I felt so calm and reassured standing in the hospital. My eyes filled with tears again, but this time, they were tears of hope and peace. I knew that I had come to the right place.

Because the cancer had spread throughout my right breast, I decided to have a double mastectomy. I wanted to reduce my chances of getting breast cancer in my left breast, and I wanted the cancerous breast tissue out. During the procedure, the surgeon found cancer in my sentinel lymph nodes, and he performed a second surgery to remove lymph nodes from my right armpit. Thankfully, a PET scan showed that the malignancy had not spread to other areas of my body.

After recovering from the surgery, I received six chemotherapy treatments, and then seven weeks of radiation. After these were completed, I began a yearlong treatment with trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody specifically targeted for Her2-positive breast cancer.

My experience at CTCA® was consistently empowering. I was part of the decision-making process at every step of the way. My Care Team was exactly that—a team of caring people—and I made lifelong friends with patients and employees. My naturopathic oncology provider and my clinical oncology dietitian helped me manage and prevent side effects, taught me how to shop for and cook healthier foods, and recommended supplements to take during and after treatment to help my recovery. I took full advantage of all the integrative services offered at the hospital, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, lymphatic drainage massage, pastoral support, physical therapy and occupational therapy. I also joined the Cancer Fighters Care Network so that I could lend support to others coping with a cancer diagnosis. In short, CTCA helped me transition from feeling like a victim to becoming a fighter, a survivor and a health care advocate.

Faith, hope and love

I was raised to know that love is unconditional. This is how I feel about my journey with cancer. My husband and I had been married for just eight months when I was diagnosed, and he stood by my side and walked with me every step of the way. At first, it was hard to admit I needed help and to be vulnerable with him. Once I let go, and let him take care of me, our relationship deepened in ways I could have never imagined. When I lost my hair and my breasts, I felt unattractive. But he showed me unconditional love and made me feel beautiful inside and out. True beauty lies in who you are, not what you look like.  Our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and family—everyone came together to help in any way they could.

My coworkers and students knew about my diagnosis—I was completely open about it—and they saw me at my most vulnerable state, too. They encouraged me, wrote letters, sent gifts, and constantly lifted me up. Coworkers donated days of their own time so that I could continue being paid while taking time off through the Family Medical Leave Act. They donated the maximum—60 days of paid leave—which was a gift that I can never repay them for.

A new life—and a plea

Going through cancer and its treatment has changed me forever. Never again will I be a victim of circumstance. Instead, I will choose to have hope, have faith and seek support. I will continue to build my relationship with God, and also with my loved ones.

This disease gave me a better perspective on what matters (and what doesn’t), and a renewed appreciation for the people in my life. It also showed me what true health care really is, or can be. At CTCA, I received not only hope and encouragement, but also sophisticated medical care that brought me back to life. I received expert treatment at every step of the way, and continue to do so now as I return for follow-up visits.

And now the plea. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone at any age, of any ethnicity, of any education level and economic status. We all need to be proactive about our health. We need to take control, eliminate unhealthy habits from our lives, and listen to our bodies.

And we need to live each day like it’s our last, and not wait for a near-tragedy to wake us up from an aimless walk through life. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may not come, but value today, and make each day count. Use your talents and gifts to help others, train your mind to focus on what is important, and love each other with all your heart. That is what I’m trying to do.

Breast Cancer