Heart of the Valley: Mother, best friend share story about losing loved one to breast cancer

3 months 4 weeks 8 minutes ago Wednesday, October 05 2022 Oct 5, 2022 October 05, 2022 9:17 PM October 05, 2022 in News - Heart of the Valley

Channel 5 News kicked off our Heart of the Valley initiative on Wednesday, with the goal of raising awareness about breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Getting yearly checkups is important. An early diagnosis means early treatment, and it can stop the disease from spreading, giving them more time with loved ones.

Claudia Acevedo lost her best friend of 26 years to breast cancer, the most diagnosed cancer in Texas women. Acevedo remembers when her friend Norma Perez learned something was wrong.

"We were getting ready for her bachelorette party,” Acevedo said. “She called me over and said she saw a red spot on her breast and she wanted me to check it out.”

Both Acevedo and Perez worked in the medical field, so Perez knew it was important to schedule a mammogram as soon as possible, but Perez was also focused on her upcoming wedding. When the results of her mammogram came back, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer.

"I was driving on University Road and I get a text and for a moment everything just felt like, ‘Wow that's my best friend,’” Acevedo said. “So I made a U-turn and I came over here and we just hugged. We just held each other and we hugged each other and we knew being nurses what was about to come and the journey was going to be very challenging."

Perez had the tumor removed from her breast.

"She was supposed to be okay after that," said Perez's mom, Minerva Garza. "The doctor said, 'Yeah, you're gonna heal and you're gonna be okay.'"

Garza said a year after that surgery, her daughter still felt something was wrong. They went to MD Anderson and found out the cancer had spread to her bones and she had to begin chemotherapy.

"Stage 4 is usually the cancer that have left the breast, so those are advanced stage cancers," said Dr. Nnewuze Amaechi at Baylor Scott & White Health. "Those are the ones that, unfortunately, I'm not able to give a cure; it's more about how do I control this cancer and prevent it from getting worse?"

For seven years, Perez fought to contain the cancer, but in 2019, at 44 years old, Perez was one of 84 people in Hidalgo County to die of the disease.

"I laid down next to her bed and I gave her a kiss on the forehead, and for some reason for the first time, I didn't say, like, 'Ok I'll see you later my friend. I just kissed her and I just said, 'I'm going to miss you,'" Acevedo said.

"I haven't accepted it," Garza said. "I wish I would, but it's going to take a lifetime for me losing a child."

It's that type of pain doctors and experts want to prevent. That's why around the world, they fight hard during October to bring awareness to breast cancer.

Doctors say yearly screenings and mammograms help doctors find the disease in the early stages.

"It hurts my soul when I see someone I could have taken care of without much aggressive measures," Dr. Nnewuze Amaechi said. "Of course, yes, I know surgery is aggressive, too, but when you see what we do sometimes it's better if I can do the minimum stuff as possible."

During the pandemic, many women stopped going to those checkups. Doctors say now they are seeing more patients coming in with more pronounced cases.

"We're hoping it levels out soon but the percentage of higher disease is a lot different than 3 years ago," Dr. Nnewuze Amaechi said.

As for Perez's family and friends, they've begun making memory bears for those who have lost someone to breast cancer. The stuffed bears are made out of the clothes their loved ones used to wear.

"This helps them hold on to their loved one. Whenever they're gone they can hug that bear and hold on to it and cry," Garza said.  

Doctors say they are beginning to see women in their 20s develop the disease so they recommend everyone to go get screened.

During the month of October, some medical facilities are having discounts as low as $99 for mammograms.

For more information, click the links below:

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