Voices of Impact – Sonia Briseno
Sonia Briseno, Lake Elsinor, California – Survivor
“My sister and I are scheduled to have surgery on the same day, September 18. I’m having my right breast and the implant from the left removed, and Angie is having a bilateral mastectomy.”
“It is my hope that we continue to provide a safe haven for Latino women before, during and after diagnosis, and that we encourage them to get their mammograms. It can save their lives.”
In April 2008 I was a single mom with two young girls. I remember my feelings the day I found out I had breast cancer – I was with my mom, and she was trying to reassure me. “This can be something good, or it can be something you have to work on.” When the diagnosis came back as Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), we both cried. This was what I most feared, having “something to work on” with no insurance. Then I said, “Let’s cry today, but I’m not going to die.”
I was helped by Altamed Health Services, which is a local Komen Fund for Breast Health Care grantee. They provided me with a free diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Their care coordinator also helped me enroll in the state-sponsored treatment program once I was diagnosed. Altamed is my medical home and I thank Komen Orange County for funding the procedures that found my cancer.
At my first visit with my oncologist, he told me that I needed to have a lumpectomy. On June 4, 2008 he removed the lump and some of my lymph nodes, but saved my breast. When I went back for a follow-up appointment my surgeon told me that I still had cancer cells, and that I needed to have a complete mastectomy. My attitude was “Let’s do it!” On June 18, 2008 they removed my left breast, and I started eight rounds of chemo. The state-sponsored treatment program paid for my surgery, and my reconstruction in 2009.
By November of that year I thought I was done – no more surgeries, no more chemo, just Tamoxifen. I had been working at a restaurant before my diagnosis, and I never stopped. My work was my therapy. My customers would say, “Why did you change your look?” and I would tell them, “Because I was bald!” I changed my look because I changed my life. I changed my life so I could live.
At the end of 2009 another life-changing thing happened: I met my husband. I would always have a smile on my face, but I’d be thinking “Who wants a woman like me?” Jose saw me on the inside; he has always said he loves my smile and my attitude. On April 28, 2011 we got married, and now I have a huge, wonderful blended family with 10 children! My family is my motivation to live.
I would go regularly for my follow-ups, and I never missed my annual mammogram and ultrasound. In 2013 my doctor told me that the BRCA test they had run was positive. I had the gene mutation, which meant that I had a greatly increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My sister Angelica had gone with me to this appointment, and my doctor told her she needed to be tested as well. She also came back as positive for the gene mutation. After a biopsy, Angie was diagnosed with Stage 1 DCIS. The doctor couldn’t believe it was happening to us both at the same time!
In July of 2013 I was concerned when I went for my mammogram because I had felt something behind my right nipple, something painful. After a biopsy, and, without knowing the results, I went to New Orleans to be part of the National Council of La Raza panel, to share my story. When I got home from New Orleans, I found out the results of my biopsy. I kept thinking about my mom: “It can be something good, or something I have to work on.” When the doctor told me I had breast cancer again, I said “Ok, fine – what are we going to do?”
My sister and I are scheduled to have surgery on the same day, September 18. I’m having my right breast and the implant from the left removed, and Angie is having a bilateral mastectomy. The great news is that she will only need the mastectomy; the doctor is 99 percent sure that Angie won’t need chemo or radiation.
I have learned so much from having breast cancer. And I am so grateful for the support I’ve gotten along the way. I wanted to be part of the outreach to Latino women, and through the Susan G. Komen Orange County Affiliate I’ve had so many opportunities to try and make a difference. When a newly diagnosed Spanish speaking women needs someone to talk to, I volunteer to mentor through the process. I am part of the “Unidos Contra el Cancer de Seno Coalition” which focuses on providing education, outreach and linkage to high-risk Latino women, and I am a member of the “Cafecitos” Spanish Support Group planning committee. Through our outreach efforts and our Unidos Coalition partners we found that monolingual Spanish-speaking women need an outlet to express their concerns, fears and to ask questions of women who have already gone through a diagnosis. It is my hope that we continue to provide a safe haven for Latino women before, during and after diagnosis, and that we encourage them to get their mammograms. It can save their lives.
About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.