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Survivors share their stories in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month

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More than 1 million people contract cancer in the United States every year. Of those 1 million people, nearly 300,000 get breast cancer every year, and of those 300,000 people, 232,340 are women.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is still the second leading form of cancer among women. Following are three stories from people who have been affected by this disease.

 

Close to home

Penelope Lopez, 21-year-old  junior public relations major, said she was 10-years-old when she learned that her 70-year-old grandmother was suffering from breast cancer.

Her grandmother, Penelope Lopez, whom she is named after, was known as the “backbone” of the family. Hers was the home that everyone went to for holidays and special family dinners. It was because of this close relationship that Lopez’s parents felt it was necessary for her to visit her grandparents the summer of her 10th birthday.

“That year she was going through chemo and radiation,” Lopez said. “They (my parents) thought it would be a good idea for me to go and spend time with her because it was a really hard transition.”

Lopez recalls her mother sitting her down and explaining to her what her grandmother was going through.

“For me at first it was a little weird,” Lopez remembered. “Going through chemo and radiation (my grandma) lost all of her hair, her eyebrows and her eyelashes. It was really hard seeing someone that was so strong, so sick.”

Lopez’s grandmother, now 84 had a mastectomy some time after and is now a 12-year survivor of breast cancer.

Since the recovery of her grandmother, Lopez has been a strong supporter and participant of ACS and events such as Relay for Life.Today Lopez is the vice president of CSUN’s Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) club.

With October being nationally recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Lopez, along with members of the CSUN CAC club, set-up a table across from Sierra Hall to promote breast cancer awareness last week. The group handed out pamphlets with breast cancer statistics and facts to students as they passed by and demonstrated for both males and females how to conduct a breast exam.

The group used gel breasts that they received from ACS to show students what a possible tumor feels like, and showed them how to use the pads on their three middle fingers to do a self-exam.

 

Dispel the myth, men can get breast cancer too

Though breast cancer is more common in women, men can also be victims of this disease. According to U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, nearly 2,300 men contract breast cancer every year.

CSUN alumnus Ronnie Veliz, was 11-years-old when he felt a lump on his right pectoral.

Veliz, who is originally from Peru, did not inquire about the lump but merely thought it strange, and it went unchecked for some time.  A few years later the lump had multiplied and five took its place. It was then that Veliz informed his mother about what was going on.

“I was really confused about what was happening with my body,” Veliz said. “My mother took me to a doctor in Peru who said it was a part of adolescence.”

His mother adhered to the advice of the physician and nothing further was done to inquire about the lumps. However, sometime later when the five lumps spread to seven, Veliz knew that something was really wrong.

His mother took him to another physician who, like the first, poked at his right pectoral but did not examine him further with tests. When this physician told his mother that the lumps were merely “masses of fat that would disappear” he was not as easily convinced as she.

“I was really scared,” said Veliz. “And it shocked me that because I am a man they (the doctors) did not feel that I should take any tests.”

Having been raised under the Catholic faith and in a Catholic school, Veliz was not properly taught about breast cancer. At the time he did not know what symptoms to look for in women, let alone in men, and he describes his experience as having been very “awkward” and “scary”.

Veliz migrated to America when he was 17-years-old. He left his mother and siblings in Peru and ventured to Los Angeles to reconnect with his father.

It was in the U.S. that Veliz got the medical attention he needed. Once settled with his father, the two went to see a physician.

“He didn’t just touch my pecs, I went through tests. The doctor told my dad that I was a part of the 4 percent of men who have tumors in their chest and that really shocked me,” Veliz recalled before adding indignantly, “People shouldn’t have to cross continents to have competent medical access regardless of sexual orientation.”

Today Veliz, a gay man, is a LGBTQ activist  and immigrant organizer and completely cancer free. He had all seven tumors removed during his first year in America at St. Judes hospital in San Fernando Valley.

“I am starting to tell my story because men go through (similar) experiences with doctors not wanting to check them for (breast cancer) because they are men. And I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Veliz said.

 

Spiritual healing

This semester Unified We Serve partnered with Matador Athletics to host the third annual Zumbathon in an effort to raise money for breast cancer research. According to Unified We Serve volunteers, the money raised was used to fund mammograms for 20 women who were unable to afford the test themselves.

Diane Weisman, a 56-year-old motivational speaker, shared her story with zumbathon attendees.

“It was my journey, and this is not for everyone,” Weisman said as a precaution. “My mom died of breast cancer at 54 and her twin at 53, so it was in my family on both sides. I was diagnosed August 2010 and I felt like I wanted to educate myself more before I made any decisions.”

Weisman made the decision to put off treatment. She gave herself six months to become as educated as she could about all things breast cancer related, despite the potential dangers that came with putting off treatment.

“I changed my way of eating…I started going to yoga and acupuncture and opened myself up to any advice that everybody had,” Weisman said.

When diagnosed in 2010, her physician found two lumps in her right breast and recommended she had a bilateral mastectomy, which meant to remove both of her breasts. He also suggested she remove her ovaries, and the hospital board fully supported his decision.

For a reason unbeknownst to her, this suggestion did not sit well with Weisman. Instead she opted to have a lumpectomy against her doctor’s recommendation, and had the two tumors and some surrounding tissue removed.

“Ultimately you do what’s right for you, and that was right for me,” Weisman said. “He took out the small node, made a small incision, and there is no difference in my body. We did it and it was very very successful.”

Weisman said she is grateful for all she had endured.

“The big thing is about living in gratitude,” Weisman added. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful for your friends and for having an education.”

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