In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, UISD teachers, staff and students have worn pink and have provided information on their social media accounts. This is the result of two teachers who have fought and continue to fight breast cancer.
Both Delta Gutierrez-Garcia and Stephanie Sanchez spearheaded the campaign in the district in order to spread the world about the importance of self-checking at any age.
According to Garcia, the campaign started one year ago after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer during a yearly checkup. Prior to that, she said that she felt fine, exercised daily and was generally healthy without signs or symptoms.
“I felt great, I had no signs, I had no symptoms,” Garcia said. “So, it was a shock, and we shouldn’t feel that way. We shouldn’t feel surprised, and so by spreading awareness, more people will understand it is important to get a mammogram every year.”
She added that while she is continuing to take medication for the next five years in a preventative measure, her support system at home and in the district is what helped her persevere over the last year. With her son serving as a primary inspiration to her recovery, Garcia said that her support system has been amazing.
As the head of the LBJ Art Department and the track & field head coach, she said her athletes saw the start of her battle against cancer and that their strength inspired her to work harder to get well to continue their coaching.
“Those children, my young athletes, inspired me to be there every day. They’re amazing and supportive,” Garcia said.
UISD’s awareness campaign works to highlight facts and educate the community. According to the NBCF, it is the most common cancer in American women except for skin cancer, and 30% of all new woman cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer. However, in rare cases men may also get breast cancer, and in 2020 it is stated that approximately 2,620 men are expected to be diagnosed with approximately 520 fatalities.
Ultimately, Garcia hopes the campaign and her experience will help them understand the situation. She hopes they do not feel alone and said that the most important thing about the recovery is to stay positive.
“Remember that you are not alone and stay positive. Positivity within you is what helps you pull through,” she said. “We’re made tough and made to do amazing things.”
The sentiment is shared by Stephanie Sanchez, a United Middle School teacher and coach, who said one of the advantages of being a coach was the ongoing tenacity to help others reach heights they first thought were not possible.
Sanchez, besides helping spearhead the campaign, was also a mentor to Garcia. After Sanchez received news of Garcia’s diagnosis, she said she wanted to help her weave through the complications of breast cancer. “I can be your light,” Sanchez said to Garcia when she the battle started, and she continued to provide her support with insights on aspects of the procedures.
According to Garcia, when she found out her diagnosis, she went to Sanchez and said she was a great influence that inspired her and gave her the chance to talk about the process, knowing that Sanchez had already gone through it all.
“From that day forward, I wanted to make sure once I was better I was going to make sure it never happened to somebody else,” Sanchez said about going through the hardships alone.
Sanchez, who said she was first diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer, said her life went through the ringer when she noticed that her lymph nodes were not removed during her operation. Her concerns continued after she started to feel ill, but the doctors assured her it was part of the recovery. Months later, after the fatigue and compounding illness, she took a vacation and returned to work, but nothing had changed.
Despite spending time with her family at the beach and returning to see her students, she left again after receiving a seal of approval from MD Anderson Center. Within 48 hours, she visited the center and was tested to find out four days later that her Stage 0 moved to Stage 3.
“I remember vividly the nurse walked in and entered with a box of Kleenex,” Sanchez said. “The doctors returned and said too much time had passed between the diagnosis and the second opinion.”
Ultimately, Sanchez was subjected to the chemotherapy and later received 40 consecutive rounds of radiation treatment. Despite the troubles and the pain of being unable to see her students or the limited time with her family, she said that there were good times and times to learn.
Sanchez told the story of how she knew she would lose her ginger red hair, and after losing her breast she felt like she had lost what made her a woman. However, she persevered. She prayed her fair would fall off quickly as she did not have the courage to shave it. As time went on, she gradually started to lose her hair.
In a funny twist of fate, during an outing to H-E-B Plus with her mother, Sanchez walked through the doors and the large fans blew her hair off. Despite ugly crying and laughing at the same time, she said that she experienced God’s sense of humor and learned to laugh at the occasion.
“I’m not going to say it wasn’t a horrific journey, but it had its beautiful moments,” Sanchez said.
During her treatment, she met good friends in the chemo ward and managed to find help from her student’s booster club and a generous board member who all donated beanies and blankets to Sanchez and her ward partners.
On top of the support from her students, Sanchez also received a heartfelt addition to her support system in the form of her former student Daniela Echeverria. Echeverria provided Sanchez a place to stay, food, words of encouragement and a shoulder to lean on during the entire process. Sanchez said she was there with her up until the end.
After the treatment was finished, Sanchez returned to her school to win Teacher of the Year, but she was not alone. Sometime later, she received a phone call from Echeverria who was in a meeting at the time. During the call, Sanchez heard Echeverria win Teacher of the Year at her school.
“No greater satisfaction or award will top that. It’s an amazing feeling,” Sanchez said.
The bottom-line message between Garcia and Sanchez is to inform men and women to get checked out for prevention. Regardless of the health recommendations and degrees, one knows their own body well, Sanchez said. Their hope and goal is to guide others to be part of their support system up until and after they ring that bell signaling they are cancer free.
“I got diagnosed, but it’s not the end of my story,” Sanchez said. “Bad things happen to good people sometimes, but it can turn it into wonderful experience.”
The district-wide campaign is encouraging the public to donate to organizations that promote annual breast cancer screenings and help fund research that leads to earlier diagnoses, treatments and cures, UISD stated. It will run through the entire Breast Cancer Awareness Month in hopes to also pay tribute to families who have lost someone to the disease and celebrate those who have won against cancer.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime with 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in 2020.
Christian Ocampo may be reached at email@example.com
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