Diane Rodriguez, who lives in Flagler County, was one of many women who woke up one day and headed to work only to learn by day’s end that she had breast cancer and was in the fight for her life.
This is her story.
“At 40, usually a gynecologist recommends you get a mammogram, and at the time, I didn’t because I was working and it just wasn’t a priority at the time,” Rodriguez said. “Eventually, I did it at 41 and they found something.”
A study by MedStar Health found that 59% of women are foregoing their routine mammograms, with a correlation of a total of 62% of women not finding a correlation between breast cancer and age.
“I didn’t feel anything and didn’t feel like I had anything wrong with me. I didn’t know breast cancer ran in my family until my diagnosis and I encourage all young women to ask those questions ’cause this can affect them as well,” Rodriguez explained.
The doctors called Rodriguez in the following days to share the findings and officially diagnose her with DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ) in 2007. According to a report in the National Library of Medicine, DCIS makes up 20 to 25% of all breast cancer diagnoses.
“They were talking to me and I immediately felt like I was in another world. I couldn’t believe that this could happen to me,” Rodriguez said.
“I went on to do 28 radiation treatments and in September, I had a lumpectomy,” said Rodriguez. “After that, everything seemed to be in the clear. Little did I know the following year, in 2008, they would find cancer growing again in my right breast and my left breast was showing signs of dense cells.”
Rodriguez soon realized her battle was far from over. The cancer cells seemed to be returning faster than before. A war was beginning inside her body.
“At this time, I had a test done called BRCA. It dove into my genetics to see if I had a mutation causing my breasts to form breast cancer.”
BRCA is a genetic test that doctors run before recommending a double mastectomy to determine if what is going on is inherited and if there might be other factors in the quest to get to the root cause of the cancer.
“After the BRCA returned negative, the doctors still suggested I get a double mastectomy to be safe from the returning cancer. So we went ahead with the plans to get that done,” Rodriguez said.
A mastectomy is the surgical removal of one or both breasts. Mainly used if there are tumors that prove to be stubborn and nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer returning in patients, only reoccurring in 6% of patients after the operation.
Erik Rodriguez, Diane’s Rodriguez’s son, provided insight into how breast cancer could affect the entire family and not just the patient.
“We were fairly young when cancer hit our mom, being in high school, and it definitely hit close to home. We were all just trying to stay strong for each other and my brother and I tried to take over as a support beacon,” Erik said.
With October being breast cancer awareness month, walks are usually a way for families and women impacted by cancer to march for awareness and a general understanding of the dangers associated with cancer.
“Every year since my mom started making a recovery, we started going on breast cancer awareness walks to get out there and get people thinking about breast cancer,” Erik said.
Ryan Rodriguez, Eriks’ brother, said a double mastectomy can lead to serious complications.
“After her double mastectomy, she developed MRSA, and that put her in the hospital quarantined, leaving me and my brother alone at home to wonder and stress what would happen to our parents,” Ryan Rodriguez said.
Breast cancer takes an enormous toll on its victims and their families, a test of will and patience, Rodriguez said.
“I’m very grateful that I’m alive and well to tell my story so that any woman out there who is having doubts or is scared they might have breast cancer may go and get that mammogram or CT scan,’’ she said. “Being proactive can save your life.”
Breast cancer is diagnosed in more than 240,000 women annually in the U.S.