For the last two generations, the Mejia women have battled breast cancer. That’s why Patricia Mejia (no relation to the author) wasn’t surprised when she was diagnosed earlier this year. Faith, family relationships, health insurance, and a positive attitude have all contributed to her success in fighting the disease and has her looking forward to a new cancer-free year.
One factor working in Mejia’s favor was annual mammograms and frequent self-checks. It was one of these self exams that revealed something wasn’t right, even before results officially came back. “I knew it, I just felt different. Before hearing from the radiologist, I kind of already knew so when I got the call I wasn’t surprised.”
Mejia drew on the positive outlook she witnessed in three close friends go through the same ailment. “Your attitude plays a key role in how you deal with treatment. I’m a firm believer in what you speak, you manifest,” Mejia said, joking about the positives, “Maybe I’ll lose a few pounds and get new boobs out of the deal.”
Defined by her wild, curly hair since childhood, one of the biggest areas of concern was losing her hair. “I didn’t want to look sick, I didn’t want pity. Losing my hair was the only thing that made me cry.” Thankfully, she discovered a process called “cold caps” which meant wearing frozen head caps during chemotherapy. With the support of friends and family who changed out the caps every fifteen minutes, Mejia kept her hair.
She remembers the day of her diagnosis -December 15th - because it was the same day her only son came home from his first semester at college. She waited to tell him until after Christmas, not wanting to ruin the holiday for him, but to give him enough time to adjust to her new reality before returning to school. She was worried about his reaction, but her patience in telling him paid off. She told her mother at the same time and her mother’s reaction helped her son realize that the disease was something his grandmother and great mother had already fought and won. Taking a cue from Patricia’s positive attitude and that of her cancer-surviving mother, her son remains supportive and upbeat.“He took it better than I thought, he had a lot of questions. When my mom came and I told her, she said, ‘I know you are going to beat this.’ Mom was very confident. Seeing her being at peace, my son was ok after that. That was a big relief.”
Mejia had a lumpectomy in January where doctors were able to completely remove all cancerous material and immediately began preventative chemotherapy. Even after chemotherapy is complete on her June 22nd birthday, she has to complete a year long regimen of radiation.
Given the aggressive nature of the kind of breast cancer Mejia has, she is considering further preventative surgery. Now that consideration timetable has been moved up because of the politics of healthcare, “I’m considering a double mastectomy and reconstruction because of potential healthcare changes. I’m on Obamacare and I want to do surgery now in case my insurance is eliminated.” Thus far, good health insurance has kept family finances in order but taking leave for surgery could change that.
Thankfully, work has been supportive throughout Mejia’s challenges. She reports having, “Chemo brain where I can only concentrate 1-2 hours at a time.” Still, she continues to work through treatment, “Working all day long is not easy but not impossible because I’ve done it. Work has been supportive and awesome.”
The entire ordeal has Mejia thankful for personal growth, “This has made me a stronger person. I have surprised myself, I didn’t know how I was going to handle chemo. I honestly think that this was a test for me. It is all because of God, he is what has gotten me through this.”
Mejia has several points of advice for women faced with breast cancer: First, early detection. “No one knows your body as well as you. Self-exam might mean early detection which is crucial.” Annual mammograms are also key. Second, try to remain positive and draw upon the successful experiences of survivors you might know. Family and friends might be willing to talk you through the process. Third, marshal resources for when you need them - health insurance, support from work, support from family and friends. Fourth, know your family history. Mejia’s knowledge of her mother and her grandmother’s experience helped her know how to handle her diagnosis. Finally, Mejia is a firm believer in helping others with cancer. “I post on Facebook because watching others go through this helped me. You need to share your journey to help someone else.”