In January 2018, Maria Elena Lopez felt a large lump in her right breast. She made an appointment for a mammogram at Harris Health System’s Smith Clinic and it was followed by other exams including a biopsy. The tests confirmed stage II cancer.
Her doctors immediately ordered 13 chemotherapy treatments at Harris Health’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, then 36 radiation treatments at Smith Clinic. She eventually had a right breast mastectomy at the hospital and is currently preparing for reconstructive surgery.
On Oct. 24, Lopez, 58, will join hundreds of breast cancer survivors like her at Harris Health’s 3rd annual Pink Out, a celebration of patients treated at LBJ Hospital, Ben Taub Hospital and Smith Clinic, the system’s dedicated center for the outpatient treatment and diagnostic care of cancer patients. The event — featuring music, video and the illumination of Smith Clinic in bright pink — coincides with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
When Lopez received her diagnosis, she says she wanted “to die.”
“I felt like the whole world was spinning. I was overwhelmed,” she recalls. “I still don’t feel complete because I no longer have my breast. A lot of people don’t know what I’m going through. I can be laughing or smiling, but inside, I’m troubled. People don’t understand that.
“It’s an indescribable feeling, but the diagnosis changed my life. It brought with it some family problems, but I will be happy. I love myself. I recently started going to church and realized God loves me in spite of my trouble,” she adds.
And with her life, she’ll do what she loves most — cook and work. She’s a food vendor who loves to make spicy Mexican food, especially tamales.
“My family and friends told me not to cook so much during my recovery, but my oncologist told me I could,” she says. Unfortunately, she can’t share them with him — he doesn’t like spicy food.
She shares her story with others battling breast cancer to encourage them.
“Those of us with cancer must be strong to confront the disease,” she says. “I look at myself in the mirror and see a warrior. God knew I would be a fighter, and that gives me peace. I’m starting to think it doesn’t matter if I have a breast. What matters is that I have life.”
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