Cancer: losing is not an option

Breast cancer awareness: In the month of October, pink ribbons are everywhere to promote awareness for breast cancer.

Breast cancer awareness: In the month of October, pink ribbons are everywhere to promote awareness for breast cancer. (Photograph: Creative Commons, Williami5)

Carmen Serrano, a former student at Saddleback College, heard the word “cancer” come from her oncologist’s mouth after finally receiving the results from a biopsy. Serrano had experienced numbness of her face, burning sensations, and overall weakness. However, the results from her yearly mammogram didn’t reveal anything of concern.

Originally, her primary doctor had advised that she lose weight, so Serrano started taking Zumba classes because of her love for music and dancing.

“You could never find me running on the streets, but Zumba was a lot of fun and once I began to lose weight and see the results from the class I felt better about myself,” Serrano said.

She related that once she had lost a few pounds she felt a pea-sized lump in her left breast. Although she had apprehensions, she immediately went to her doctor. It wasn’t until she had a biopsy that the doctors were able to find any visible cancer.

Serrano is originally from Acapulco, Mexico, and she came to the States with her husband, Roberto, when she was 18 years old. Together, they have three girls ages six, 17, and 20.

“I never asked the question, ‘why me?’ I simply just asked for the strength to get me through whatever I had to overcome to be a healthy and supportive mother and wife for my family,” Serrano said.

Serrano had a double mastectomy in place of any chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Medications and plastic surgery weren’t her favorable options and in spite of that, she allowed the “sharpie man to scribble all over her chest.”

“My husband had recently lost his job, leaving me to be the supporter of the family. I had three surgeries in six months, and worked after I would recover from each surgery. It was challenging, but I knew it was what I had to do to survive,” Serrano said.

Serrano described her relationship with her husband as distant. However, she expressed that during her illness he was sensitive and accommodating.

Serrano’s six-year-old daughter, Sarah, was the little gem that kept her mommy smiling and inspired.

“I was laying in my hammock outside on my patio, where my husband was finally planting a tree where I had asked him [to] for months. I was listening to music and suddenly I was overcome with tears and depression. Sarah came to me and asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know how to respond,” Serrano said.

Carmen’s daughter related to her mother about how beautiful the day was, and how the sun was shining, and it must be the melancholy music that was attributing to her mother’s desperation.

Sarah ran inside and changed the radio station. What came on was the voice of a pastor, who was retelling a story of his wife with breast cancer.

“I felt that there was a message that needed to reach me and my daughter was the one to deliver me that message,” Serrano professed.

The people in Carmen’s life became skittish around her while she was ill. She explained how people who have never been affected by cancer look at you as if you are already dead because of the stigma around cancer.

“People would look at me like, ‘aww poor Carmen she’s going to die,'” Serrano said laughing and shaking her head.

Serrano managed to support her family while fighting cancer, taking a child development class at Saddleback College, and working to keep her health insurance and family life intact.

“On Christmas, I was so happy to see that everyone got what they wanted. My family never went a day without food, and all of our basic needs were met. At the end of the day, that is all that matters,” Serrano said.

Serrano now has a new job where the ocean reveals itself through her office window. She isn’t feeling 100 percent healthy but her cancer is gone, and she feels optimistic for her future.