HARLINGEN — Elizabeth Martinez-Gonzalez was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32.
Martinez-Gonzalez, 51, said the moment she was told she had cancer, she was scared. Her son was only 4 years old at the time.
Her chemotherapy lasted around six weeks, and her appointments with her oncologists continue to this day.
But Martinez-Gonzalez speaks about it with bravery.
“I am still going to appointments, but I am not considered cancer free yet,” she said.
“I have to wait until 2021, and then I will be considered to be truly free. I was scared back then because my son was little, but my faith in God and prayer allowed me to not be as scared,” Martinez-Gonzalez said.
Now, she is a mother of two children, which makes her fear for her life again.
Martinez-Gonzalez is one of the survivors who got a mastectomy, and though it was a painful surgery, she described it as if it had been nothing.
“Check your breasts. I had just done my annual checkup and my OBGYN did a breast examination. But then I felt a little lump and kept checking on it,” Martinez-Gonzalez said.
She added women often feel it is the doctor’s job to find something wrong, but women need to do their part and check themselves regularly.
“You know your breasts better than anyone else,” she said.
In her family, breast cancer predominated so Martinez-Gonzalez is fearful for her daughter.
But she keeps a positive outlook.
“I come across people who have been diagnosed, and I give them encouragement. You think you are going to die and have a pity party and you cannot let the disease get over you,” she said.
For Amy Marie Tamez, 36, who was just diagnosed with breast cancer this August, the experience is quite different.
“It has been a roller coaster and a waiting game. You are always waiting on results, and it has been very emotional,” she said.
To be diagnosed during a world pandemic has only made it harder, but Tamez continues to keep a positive mind.
“I was scared as my first thought because I have a little girl. I cannot die. It was my first initial reaction, but I have to be strong, there is no other choice,” she said.
Every year, she does a mother and daughter photoshoot with her daughter Stella. But this year’s shoot was more memorable.
Tamez said her life has been different since her August diagnosis, and the photoshoot was needed.
“It was super emotional for me, but it was a night Stella and I won’t forget,” Tamez said.
If Tamez had not been diagnosed now it could have been worse for her, which makes her thankful for the diagnosis.
Tamez is not a drinker or smoker and keeps a healthy lifestyle, so does Martinez-Gonzalez.
“For me it is a lifestyle I already had but now I have to change to an even healthier one,” Tamez said.
Tamez is attending MD Anderson and goes in by herself. No one is allowed to accompany her because of COVID-19 restrictions, which has been difficult.
One thing that has helped her endure the journey is a book called “Braving Chemo,” which she recommends to others going through the same process.
“Some days are good and some days are bad, but you have to take it one day at a time,” Tamez said. “Everyone’s journey is going to be different and no one will understand it unless they had it.”
The first thing she did once she was diagnosed was reach out to survivors.
Tamez said it was extremely helpful to understand it and prepare herself for what was next.
“It has been pretty therapeutic, and I have had girls reach out to me,” Tamez said.
Another piece of advice she had is to keep yourself entertained and laughing. No time for dwelling on sadness.
“You have to see the bright side or it will take a toll on you mentally. You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.