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Not Just Another Season, Not Just Another Story

With summer under our belts, it's easy to shift into autumn on autopilot. But let's pause a moment. It's not that systematic. Each season, like each day, has its own set of experiences, we may just need to look a bit closer. Bulking the balmy days of summer together can seem like one big muggy blur but let's break it down. How did we spend our time? When did we feel our best? What did we learn? How did we grow? What can we bring with us into our days ahead?

We reflect in this same way after meeting a new survivor and hearing his or her story. It's not just systematic. It's not just another breast cancer story. It's not all the same. As with each season, each survivor is so unique, each journey has its own set of experiences, and each story shared here, has its own page-turning (or thumb-scrolling) set of events. We always learn and we always grow. So meeting our September survivor, Maria A. Del Rio, leaves us again with ears perked up and eyes wide open.

Maria battled breast cancer not once but twice. Heard that before? Maybe. But Maria was 15 years cancer free and was tipped off to a possible recurrence by a masseuse. Exactly.

Let's rewind to Maria's first bout with breast cancer. Diagnosed at 34, Maria was happily married and mom to a seven-year-old son. Taking on breast cancer was furthest from her mind, and with no family history of it, or any firsthand knowledge of the disease, Maria was overwhelmed.

"I did not know what to do," she recalled. Still, one thing remained in focus. Maria would not let her diagnosis define her and certainly not defeat her. "I knew I had to fight this," she said. "I had to survive."

Over the next year, Maria endured a lumpectomy, removal of lymph nodes, six rounds of chemotherapy, and nearly seven weeks of radiation. "It was a difficult time for me and my family," she said. "It was a tough and long 11 months but we survived."

After more than a decade cancer-free, no one suspected that a relaxing day at the spa would set another battle in motion. During some much-deserved pampering while enjoying a massage, Maria's masseuse showed signs of concern working on areas of her chest and arms. She asked Maria if she was sick but Maria informed her proudly she was not sick and instead a breast cancer survivor. However, the masseuse suggested Maria visit her doctor.

"I left and cried in my car," she recalled. "I wondered, 'What did she feel without feeling my breast?'"

Within a day, Maria spoke with her doctor and had a mammogram and ultrasound scheduled for that same week. The findings of both prompted a biopsy of tissue within each breast. Another week later, biopsy results confirmed Maria had cancer in the same breast she had 15 years prior.

This time around her doctors suggested a more aggressive form of treatment which would include a mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy. Previously, Maria had a lumpectomy, and though most of our readers know, for those who do not, a lumpectomy is a surgery in which cancer, or other abnormal tissue like a tumor, is removed from the breast. A lumpectomy is also referred to as breast-conserving surgery or a wide local excision since only part of the breast is being removed. Medical professionals may also call the procedure an excisional biopsy. A mastectomy, however, removes the entire breast and is therefore a more aggressive treatment option.

But after discussing with her husband, Maria decided to approach the treatment even more aggressively and opted for a double mastectomy, which would remove both breast entirely, thereby reducing the likelihood of recurrence.

Also this time around radiation was not an option since Maria already had it done in the same breast years before. Radiation is typically avoided and not recommended for the same area twice because over-exposure of radiation to the same area, or organ, can cause too much damage.

With a new treatment plan in place, over the next several months Maria underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction surgery.

With her final reconstruction surgery last summer, Maria was in great spirits at her photo shoot earlier this year (see above) and credited her loved ones and medical team for their support along the way.

"With the help of doctors, my husband David, family and friends, I have survived."

After two battles with breast cancer, Maria offers this: "Always remember you are braver than you think and stronger than you seem, and you are loved more than you know by your family and friends."

Maria, thank you for sharing your unique story with us and we are honored to have you in our Eye of the Survivor family!

Also, our warmest birthday wishes to Celeste M. Munford (January survivor) and Shirley Washington (April survivor) who both celebrate birthdays this month!

Until next time keep up with us on social and always keep your Eye on Strength!

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