Luz Garcia…I’ve known her for most of her 39 years so, obviously, I was more than a little distraught when I heard the C word attached to her name. It wasn’t until recently, however, that Luz and I sat down and discussed it openly and freely. We both believe that there was definitely Devine Guidance giving her a nudge or two.
“One day I just decided out of the blue that I hadn’t had a physical in 3-4 years and that it was time I did. Something just made me pick up the phone and schedule it. While I was there, they asked if I wanted a mammogram, and since I was going to be 39, I said that I did…just because, not for any other reason.
“I had never had a mammogram, and we weren’t in any hurry. In fact, we scheduled it for three months out. After I finally had the mammogram, I received a call that told me that they had seen something and wanted to cover all of the bases by doing a diagnostic mammogram. This is where they do a lot more views than they do on the basic mammogram that most people have.
“When they saw something again on this one, they told me that we would need to do a sonogram. Up until this point, I had not told anyone, including my husband, what was going on and by this time, I was worried. I still didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to worry, but the sonogram was going to be $400.00 out of pocket so I had to tell him.
“I’m just the kind of person that doesn’t want people to worry, and I like to take care of things myself. Anyway, after the sonogram, the radiologist told me that I needed to see a surgeon.”
They still had not used the C word, in case you are wondering. It was again at this point that Luz believes she was given yet another nudge.
“The surgeon said that they had nothing to compare it to since this was my first mammogram. He even offered to wait six months and do another one, but I just had a feeling that I couldn’t afford to wait…” she trailed off as she walked back through those first days.
“So we did a biopsy, and I was told that it looked good, did not look like cancer. And then the dreaded call came the next day. I was told that the doctor wanted to talk to me in his office, and I more or less knew. I didn’t even tell my husband or my sister until it was time to leave the next day. Of course, they insisted on coming with me.
“When we walked in, the receptionist who is usually very talkative was so quiet that I knew. Plus, as we walked back to the office, the doctor’s nurse was carrying a box of tissue, and that wasn’t normal. Then, he told me that I have cancer.
“It was numbing. Everything just shut off, and I didn’t feel anything.”
When she could, Luz asked the doctor, “What happens now? Am I going to lose my hair?”
“Yes, you will lose your hair and more,” was the doctor’s answer.
“I didn’t want to look at my husband or my sister; I knew they were teary eyed. The doctor was telling me so many things that were like mumbo jumbo. I was in shock, and even today I can’t really remember what it was that he said.
“I did hear him say that I had to get to a specialist right away because my cancer is very aggressive. I know now that God was watching out for me and even nudged me to make that first appointment.
“’Am I going to die?’ Those were my first words when reality began to set in.”
The diagnosis came on Good Friday, and by Monday, Luz was with the surgeon in Bedford.
“You have cancer, and it’s not the pretty type; it’s the nasty kind of cancer. It’s a triple negative, which is rare.”
To be honest with you, we were covering so much ground so quickly that I if Luz told me exactly what a triple negative is, I did not retain it. I do know that she went through genetic testing to see if genetics are a factor. They are not.
For the next three weeks, Luz went through extensive testing, having to drive back and forth 2-3 times each weeks. Then, on week four, she had a bilateral mastectomy. She could have only had one breast removed but since the cancer was already in the lymph nodes, she opted to do the bilateral. She went into surgery with stage 2 cancer and came out in stage 3 because of how much of it was already in the lymph nodes.
“I came out of surgery with expanders inside my chest to stretch the skin,” she told me, and I suppose I was a bit shocked. No one had ever really explained the reconstruction process to me, and I had no idea how painful it actually is, or how much time it takes. Every week for six weeks, Luz had to make a trip to see the doctor so she could have more saline inserted into the expanders.
“The expanders were the most painful part because they are very large so as to stretch the skin as much as possible. Every week the expanders were made bigger, and I went from a B to a D in six weeks. The pain medicine that I took was for that, not the surgery. I will have these [expanders] until next year. I can’t sleep on my side; I have to sleep on my back, and by morning they are really painful.”
As to the surgery itself…
“I woke up with a drain in my side and a port in my neck. It was pretty horrible. I felt like one of those cartoon characters that you see on television.”
And yet, she was only in the hospital for two days…amazing!
Luz started chemo a month after her surgery, and within ten days her hair was gone.
“They told me that they were going to hit me hard with chemo due to the type of cancer that I have. There is actually no cure for it, but they are attacking it with heavy chemo and radiation. The first time I didn’t tolerate the chemo well because I didn’t take my anti-nausea meds like I was supposed to, and I was sicker than a dog.
“You have to remember that the effects of chemo are different for everyone. My taste buds have been gone, but I am getting those back. Sensation on my fingertips and toes is gone, I have dry mouth, and it did throw me into pre-menopause. It fried my ovaries, and I get hot flashes like crazy.”
Luz had chemo treatments every three weeks and thankfully, her blood work was always such that she never had to postpone a treatment. Her weeks looked something like this: Monday, blood work, Wednesday, chemo, and on Thursdays they gave her a shot to improve her white blood count.
“My chemo treatments were always three hours long, and I was sick every single time. The sickness would always start on Thursday and would continue through every Saturday.
This schedule was Luz’s life from June until October 1, when she had her last chemo treatment.
On November 11, 2014, Luz Garcia began her radiation treatments in Weatherford and, believe it or not, she still works full time. Besides the income, working keeps her from thinking too much and from feeling sorry for herself, she tells me.
“I work until 2:00 every day, and then I head to Weatherford for radiation. I have to drive to Weatherford every day for five weeks.”
After Luz finishes her radiation, she will continue to be checked by her oncologist every three weeks.
“There is a 75% chance that the cancer will come back,” she shared.
In my opinion, the beautiful young woman looks even more beautiful than ever, but Luz admits that a lot of that is because she is determined that no one will see her looking sick or feeling sorry for herself.
“I told myself that I will not cry about this. I’m just going to enjoy my life. Without my wig and without my makeup, I look like one of those cancer patients that you see on TV, and I refuse to look like that.”
Obviously, when faced with hard times, we all have to figure out how to get ourselves through those times. Right now Luz is not having the port removed.
“I’m afraid, I think. It’s my security blanket, and I’m okay with keeping it in. I’m giving myself two years to keep it in. They will flush it every three months, and that’s what I want to do for now.”
She was supposed to start radiation two weeks ago, but when she went for the first treatment, they found a lump.
“That was a scary time. The biopsy came back with atypical cells, but it was negative. It was just inflammation!”
And then we sat for a moment, while I contemplated, looking at the beautiful young woman in front of me and wondering why it is that this disease continues to exist in a country that managed to get itself to the moon and back. Why can’t we get a crushing hold on this C word that we all fear?
“So, where are you today?”
“I think that I am content in my life. I have learned to appreciate the little things that we never realize…even like having hair. When my hair comes back, I’m never going to complain about a bad hair day again. It’s the little things that we need to learn to appreciate. Yes, cancer is bad, but it is also about what I do with it.
“I try to do everything I was doing before I knew I had cancer because I am not going to let this get the best of me. It’s all about how you fight and damn, I want to fight!”
And somehow I was left with the feeling that Luz Garcia is right. I don’t know if I have it in me to fight that fight, but I have no doubt that there is a fighting tiger inside the tiny little woman that is Luz, and that tiger intends to stand up to the C word, as she says, “for my children. Cancer has a funny way of scaring you and empowering you at the same time.”