Gloria Sanchez is a breast cancer warrior who’s alive today because of access to life-saving preventive programs at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.
April 20, 2023, was more than the day she turned 53 years old. It marked the one-year anniversary of her lumpectomy to remove the cancer from her breast.
Breast cancer is a battle millions of women around the world face every year. The journey is often a tumultuous one, filled with fear, uncertainty, and a need for support. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and the most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Because of this, breast cancer screening is highly recommended and is one of the reasons TTUHSC El Paso’s Breast Cancer Education, Screening and Navigation Program (BEST) was founded. The screening program has been funded since 2013 by two Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) grants. The program covers 105 West Texas counties, including El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
The American Cancer Society reports that approximately 1 in 8 women will experience a breast cancer diagnosis. In the last decade, El Paso County has seen a rising trend in its breast cancer incidence rate, as indicated by data from the National Cancer Institute, which is monitored by Healthy Paso del Norte.
In addition to screening programs, TTUHSC El Paso is home to the Center of Emphasis in Cancer, which conducts research on the prevention and treatment of the deadly disease, with a focus on Hispanic populations.
However, screening rates remain low, especially among Hispanics and residents of low-income communities.
Sanchez’s story began with her mother receiving a devastating diagnosis of brain cancer in 2021. Sanchez put her own health on hold and dedicated herself to caring for her ailing mother.
Tragically, her mother passed away later that year, leaving Sanchez emotionally shattered.
As she grieved the loss of her mother, Sanchez’s world took another turn. Now conscious of the importance of preventive health care, she made contact with the BEST program to be screened for breast cancer. The screening led to a diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer in January 2022.
The news hit her like a ton of bricks. Having recently lost her mother, and having no close relatives in El Paso, she felt alone and overwhelmed.
“I thought I was going to die,” Sanchez said.
In the midst of this heart-wrenching moment, she reached out to her friends in town. Their unwavering support and presence were her lifelines during those dark days.
It wasn’t just her friends who came to her aid. Sanchez also got to know the staff of the BEST program, including senior outreach worker Bertha Macias, who provided her with invaluable assistance and support during her battle against breast cancer.
“Bertha would call me every other day asking me how I was doing, if I needed anything or just to cry and talk. I cried a lot when I was diagnosed and before I had all the tests done and the lumpectomy. I cried every day, just feeling alone, feeling nervous,” Sanchez said. “They guided me to get Medicaid, and helped me with everything, even a phone call, to make sure I was doing okay. They’ve been wonderful.”
The journey was challenging, and the fear was ever-present, but Sanchez emphasized the importance of the support she received from her community, especially during her moments of vulnerability.
“I know it’s bad when they tell you, ‘You have cancer,’” she said. “But having people in this program who care about you, help you, and guide you, you feel hugged, you feel loved.”
Her treatment at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso included a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, but her lymph nodes were clear, and the cancer was successfully removed. She expressed gratitude for the support she received from TTUHSC El Paso.
“It was the best. And in fact, the surgery I had last year was on my birthday. I was feeling down because I wasn’t going to spend time with my neighbors and friends,” Sanchez shared. “But one nurse told me, ‘You know, it’s the best gift you can give yourself.’”
Today, Sanchez stands as a testament to early detection and the power of community support. She encourages everyone to prioritize regular screenings and self-examinations to improve their chances of overcoming breast cancer.
“If I hadn’t gone through the screening, my cancer would’ve grown. And if it keeps growing, it’s going to be a harder fight,” she cautioned. “So, it’s always easier and best for you to take care of yourself, and every year get a screening and do your self-exams.”
Sanchez’s story is a beacon of hope for those facing the daunting battle against breast cancer. With determination, early detection, and a support system like hers, anyone can put up a fight against the disease.
As she says, “Don’t give up the fight. You’re going to cry. But then get up. Get up and fight. We can all get through this.”
Support from our community partners saves lives through access to critical breast cancer screening and patient navigation services. Hope begins HERE at TTUHSC El Paso, where cancer prevention programs ensure a brighter future for our Borderplex community.To learn more about TTUHSC El Paso’s impact on cancer care in our Borderplex region, visit ttuhscepimpact.org.