April 19, 2016 by Tammy Howell
“When I found out I had breast cancer, I was very scared. My first thought was ‘who will take care of my children?’ I was so worried and upset that I stayed in bed for
two days after I was diagnosed. On the third day, I got out of bed, wiped away my tears and said, ‘Okay, what do I need to do?’ I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to get better. I knew I could do this!”
Tania Gonzalez is a wife and the mother of three boys. Since 2011, she has utilized the services at North Country HealthCare (NCHC) in Flagstaff for primary care for her family. In 2015, Tania found herself in need of more than basic medical care and once again turned to NCHC, specifically the Well Woman HealthCheck Program.
When Tania discovered a lump in her left breast, her mother in law suggested she schedule an appointment with NCHC’s Well Woman HealthCheck Program. Tania’s mother in law was already enrolled in the program and knew the services included care for women who were diagnosed with or suspected of having breast or cervical cancer.
That same day, Tania called NCHC and was connected to Josie Escoto, a patient navigator with Well Woman HealthCheck. Based on her income, lack of insurance and symptoms, Tania was enrolled in the program and immediately was scheduled to see a physician. A mammogram and ultrasound indicated more than one lump, which were suspicious for cancer.
Next, Tania underwent an outpatient, ultrasound-guided biopsy of the two dominant masses in her left breast. The biopsy results confirmed Tania had invasive carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Invasive breast cancer occurs when cancer cells from inside the milk ducts or lobules break out into nearby breast tissue. Cancer cells can travel from the breast to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system.
Tania was referred to a surgeon and an oncologist – both who specialize in treating breast cancer. She was very diligent with taking notes and advocating for her own health at every appointment. She utilized Well Woman HealthCheck Program tools to assist her in staying organized with her appointments and information, in addition to researching all aspects of her diagnosis and treatment. Although many patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer are eligible for Medicaid, Tania was not. Thankfully, partnerships with Komen Arizona provided discounts and funding to allow her to receive her treatment locally. This allowed Tania to remain in northern Arizona, never leaving her support system of family and friends in order to be treated.
Because the cancer was invasive and the tumor had grown significantly in size – from the size of a grape to the size of a lemon in less than two months – the plan was to immediately begin chemotherapy treatments to shrink and stop the growth of the tumors. Tania’s oncologist developed a treatment plan and explained the side effects that may occur. Hair loss was a big concern for Tania, so she proactively cut her hair very short.
Following nearly six long months of chemotherapy, Tania returned to her surgeon. The next step was a unilateral (one breast) or bilateral (both breasts) mastectomy, followed by eight weeks of radiation therapy. Often women elect to have a bilateral mastectomy to remove the risk of cancer in the healthy breast. Tania chose the unilateral procedure with the option of breast reconstruction following surgery. Her husband was by her side throughout the entire journey. When she felt sad about all the changes to her body, her husband reassured her, saying, “I did not marry your breasts, I married you!”
Nearly nine months after finding the lumps in her breast, Tania began to feel like she had her life back and like herself again. Her hair started to regrow, her cheeks regained color, and she once again had the energy to keep up with her kids.
Tania’s strength, determination and perseverance carried her through the hardest nine months of her life, and these attributes will continue to serve her well throughout the rest of her life. Today, Tania is an outspoken advocate for the Well Woman HealthCheck Program and Komen Arizona, and she is constantly expressing her gratitude to the staff for their dedication and compassion towards her.
The generosity and donations of others helps fund the Well Woman HealthCheck Program and Komen Arizona, which paid for all of Tania’s tests and treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
About the Well Woman HealthCheck Program
The Well Woman HealthCheck Program at North Country HealthCare is funded through donations and the Arizona Department of Health Services through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program helps low-income, underinsured and uninsured women gain access to age-appropriate breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services including clinical breast exams; mammograms; Pap and HPV tests; and pelvic exams. Diagnostic testing such as ultrasounds, biopsies and other tests are available if screening results are abnormal. Referrals are made for treatment as necessary.
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