It’s been a decade now since we started The Heroes Project, our way of celebrating survivorship and supporting the fight against cancer. Every year in this issue, we introduce a new group of survivors and tell their stories in print and online. Stories of courage, of hope and of remarkable resilience. There are well over 100 Gwinnett Magazine Heroes.
I wake up and realize that I am in charge of my life. Breast cancer taught me that no one—and I mean no one—was going to take better care of me than me.
Ana Dolores Estrada Garcia had her first mammogram at the age of 41. The last thing she expected to hear from the doctor was the diagnosis of cancer.
“I felt well, I didn’t have pain or a lump, because early breast cancer often does not cause symptoms,” says Ana, who has become an avid advocate of regular breast cancer screenings. She was fortunate. Her cancer—ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)—was detected early. The cells that line the ducts in her breast had changed to cancer cells but hadn’t yet spread to nearby tissues.
Breast conservation surgery was the first step in Ana’s treatment, followed by 25 radiation therapies and hormone therapy. She will get a mammogram every six months, meet with an oncologist every three months, and continue hormone therapy for five years.
“The next step,” says Ana gratefully, “is to enjoy life and take it one day at a time.”
Ana has experienced physical and emotional changes since her diagnosis two years ago. She found herself tired all the time and wanting to do nothing but sleep. But the biggest of those changes has been positive: seeing life—and cancer—in a totally different light.
“Cancer is an illness of transformation. Cancer taught me that I’m more resilient than I would’ve believed. It helped make me braver. So here I am, a brave woman living a more positive, happier, healthier life than the day before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
No one wants to hear that they have become a statistic, one of more than 300,000 women who are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer every year. Ana certainly didn’t. Yet she’s taken that difficult diagnosis and turned it into one of the most significant chapters in her life story, a story she will share with others faced with the same hard news.
“The diagnosis of my cancer was shocking, but it was my greatest teacher, and an invitation to see inside myself. I learned how beautiful life is and to enjoy it. I had to start taking care of myself and loving my body, because if I am fine, then my family will be fine.”
Yes, there are doctor visits and treatments ahead, but as far as Ana is concerned, the first steps to becoming physically whole again are up to her.
“I wake up and realize that I am in charge of my life. Breast cancer taught me that no one—and I mean no one—was going to take better care of me than me. Only I know exactly what I need and when. If I need time to myself, I take it. If I need a massage, I’ll get one. If I need love, I’ll love myself.
“I am living proof that self-care is a necessity and never to be confused with selfishness. If you don’t take care of yourself, then no one will either.”
Still learning to live in the moment day-by-day, Ana has come through this experience with a new motto: “Live and love.”
Ana’s story made possible by a grant from Freeland Painting
Thank you, Doug, for helping us to share Ana’s inspirational story.
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