One woman's fight against breast cancer reached great distances
A breast cancer diagnosis is never easy, but it's especially difficult when you're unable to find the treatment and care you need. For 38-year-old Erika, the struggle to get treatment took her from Illinois, to her home country of Mexico, and back again.
"When I received my diagnosis, both my husband and I became very worried not only about the outcome, but because we didn't have any financial means or health insurance," Erika remembers. "As complicated as my decision was, I felt that the only option was to go back to my home country of Mexico to seek medical help, leaving my family behind."
She was right to be afraid. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among Latinas and Hispanic women. More concerning still, the disease is more often diagnosed at a younger age and in a more aggressive form for Latina and Hispanic women.
Over the course of the next six months, Erika stayed in Mexico and underwent a left breast mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. She hoped her sacrifice would stop the cancer in its tracks.
But soon after she returned home to Illinois, she noticed an alarming lump in her right breast. Through the Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, a community organization dedicated to providing support and resources to immigrant families, Erika met Viv Lafin, a Lay Navigator for the Hispanic Breast Care Program at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.
"When I first met Erika, she was desperate for a solution, and she needed to get checked out fast," explains Lafin. "Within a few days we had all of her medical records from Mexico and had assembled a care team to help."
While Lafin watched Erika's young daughter, Dr. Roberto Montoya, bilingual medical oncologist, and his team performed an initial exam, followed by a mammogram, ultrasound and other tests.
"It was imperative to have my condition and treatment guided by a physician who spoke my native language," says Erika. "The next piece of the puzzle was to figure out how we could afford my treatment without insurance."
The team was able to help Erika's husband find work at Advocate Good Shepherd, get the family insurance coverage, find financial help to cover the cost of Erika's injections, and even help Erika use a computer to sign her daughter up for preschool.
"When you're walking with a patient on their journey, you don't stop after a test result or exam," Lafin continues. "Ensuring that Erika and her family are well physically and mentally was really important to us. That's why we offered her resources from our Integrative Medicine Center to ease her anxiety, and we put her in touch with our financial navigators to help ease that burden as well."
Today, Erika is cancer-free, and she's built a strong support system through the Spanish-speaking survivorship group at the hospital. The women have found strength, joy and solace in one another. Erika and Lorena, another Hispanic Breast Care Center patient, talk almost every day. Together, they've faced their diagnosis, and now, are looking forward to the future.
"This experience brought me closer to both my family and to God," Erika concludes. "I am so thankful for each of the caregivers that I have met through my illness and subsequent treatment. Today, I can say I feel good and healthy. I look forward to every plan I can make for my future."