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Gabrielle Ximena Barragan (Breast Cancer Caregiver)

Gabrielle Ximena Barragan (Breast Cancer Caregiver)

My encounter with cancer was very sudden. One day I was showering and noticed through self-examination that I had a lump in my right breast and decided to schedule a mammogram since it was already due that year. After the results came, the doctors called me and suggested an Ultrasound scan with a biopsy. I hadn't heard anything from the doctor, so I assumed everything was well.

Encountering Cancer

This pandemic began, and I remember having a doctor's appointment on March 18. I had my blood work done, and the doctor mailed me and told me not to come to her office and said that she would call at the end of the day. At around 8.45 p.m. I came to know that I had breast cancer

I was in shock. I couldn't form a reply when I heard the news from the doctor. She was going over the details about seeing an oncologist and discussing moving forward with this, but I couldn't focus on what she was saying. I was immersed in my thoughts, and it took me some time to process the emotions.

News to my family 

The first person I reached out to was my sister. She was thousands of miles away and couldn't see me, but she did her best and gave me some pointers since she had a few friends who had already had breast cancer and even shared their contacts with me. We have a neurosurgeon in the family, and she suggested I talk to him too.

It took me a while to tell this news to my parents since the whole world was going through the pandemic, and I was hesitant about adding to the stress they were already in. 

Treating Cancer

I first went through chemotherapy. I went through six sessions of TCHP, where I underwent the infusion once every three weeks. I was also given Neulasta, which was also once every three weeks and lasted for six sessions. I then proceeded to have my lumpectomy in October and was treated with sixteen rounds of radiation. I was also treated with eighteen rounds of Herceptin that lasted a year, with the treatment scheduled once every three weeks.  

The treatment felt like a long, never-ending process since I had to go through treatments and infusions for a whole year. Back then, I wasn't allowed to bring anyone with me due to Covid, so the process of going to the hospital was lonely.

Researching and processing the treatments

I had been reading up a lot about the type of tumour I had and had come to terms with taking chemotherapy. I understood from the beginning that chemotherapy would save my life, and I was ready to go through that process. 

I was lucky enough to be blessed with an open and willing hospital to treat patients through the pandemic. We had heard a lot about cancer patients needing help during this time but not having access to it. I knew I was lucky to have had this hospital ready to help me with the treatment I needed most. 

Because of the type and size of my tumour, the focus was on reducing its size. I was clear about getting chemotherapy and following it up with the other treatments I mentioned above.

My support through the hard times

I firmly believe that you can't achieve anything without support, so it was an essential aspect for me to have a support system. The first thing I did was create a WhatsApp chat group with my friends and family so that they could give me the support  I needed through this journey. 

I did not know what I would be going through, so I also maintained a diary where I wrote down what I felt about the treatment and my friends and family had access to it so that they would know when I was feeling down and help me push through it. The WhatsApp group had 18 members, and they were my support system throughout the journey.

My parents had also decided to stay with me while I was getting treatment, and I was lucky to have so many people besides me who chose to walk this walk with me.

The hospital, the doctors and their help

I had the best hospital a patient could ask for. I was not initially diagnosed at the Miami Cancer Institute, but after getting a second, third and fourth opinion, I returned to the Miami Cancer Institute. The first surgeon I met there, Jane Mendes, was my inspiration. She was the reason I decided to get my treatment there. 

The team of doctors and nurses were there for me during and after the treatment, and the hospital was my haven. I never felt alone, even though none of my family members could go with me to the treatments. I would even say that the hospital and the doctors were a part of my support group.

Things that kept me motivated

I was the one who found the lump on my breast before diagnosis, and I was the one who found that there was no lump on my breast while going through treatment. So after the second chemotherapy session, and when I didn't feel the lump, I reached out to my oncologist, and she asked me to come in for a consultation. 

After the consultation, the doctor suggested that the dosage of chemotherapy be lowered, but I refused and told her to prescribe an MRI for me. She said that usually, we don't run any tests on patients until they are done with the entire treatment and that I still have four sessions left.

The doctor and I compromised, and she prescribed an Ultrasound scan for me, told me we would see the results, and that I could have an MRI after my third chemo session.

I was asked to do another Ultrasound since no tumours were detected. That day I remember crying so much. That was the first time I cried a lot and couldn't stop because I realised that the chemotherapy had worked. That was my very first happy moment.

The second happy moment was when the doctors double-checked with an MRI and told me that there was no tumour detected. I proceeded to go through a lumpectomy and biopsy, and all the results said benign. 

Every time I completed treatment was a happy moment. Each time I finished a cycle of chemotherapy, when the surgery where they reconstructed one half of my right breast was complete, every round of infusion was a happy moment for me.

Lifestyle changes

Many survivors are advised to make considerable changes in their food practices, but for most of my life, I've had a lean and clean diet, so I didn't have to change my food habits. The only change I made is that I cut down on dairy products. I had a lot of exercise in my daily routine. I started to go paddling six times a week after I completed my treatment.

I think it is imperative to lower your stress levels. As a cancer survivor, it is essential to live a life with as little stress as possible. I believe that if one has the right attitude and is always upbeat, it will help them in preventing cancer from happening again.

Even today, while going through the day, I might suddenly feel tired, and I listen to my body and let it dictate what it needs. I believe that this is something that everyone who has been through cancer should follow. 

Lessons that cancer taught me

All the experiences that I went through changed me. This journey taught me to smile and laugh a little more than I did before. Most importantly, I've learnt to accept things as they come and not give anything more importance than I should. We don't know what tomorrow holds, so we should not let them bother how we live today. 

My advice to cancer patients and caregivers

As far as cancer is concerned, it is essential to have a support group, be it one person or a group of people. And if people in your life don't want to go through this with you, rethink your relationship with them. Be empathetic to others who are going through the same thing and lend a helping hand to them if possible.

The need for awareness related to cancer

Stigmas need to disappear. We are all unique in our ways, regardless of whether we go through cancer or not, and the best way to educate others is by starting a conversation. When we are capable enough to go back into the world and lead an everyday life, we must talk about our journeys because it will help at least one person and ensure they understand that a disease does not define us.

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