By LIBBY CLUETT | email@example.com
“I feel good,” said Maria DeSantiagoduring in an interview earlier this month, on her way home from her last chemotherapy treatment.
Although she began chemo in April, it took her a little longer than usual to complete the treatment.
“I've been struggling with my white blood count and skipped a few (treatments),” she said, “But I had my last one today.”
Her battle with breast cancer began when she felt an abnormality while showering one Tuesday in January. She immediately made an appointment with her physician on Wednesday and had a mammogram Thursday, then waited.
DeSantiago, 44, said the waiting was difficult. But one week later, last Jan. 18, she received the anticipated news confirming she had breast cancer – Stage IIB.
“The hardest part was telling my mom,” she recalled. “I told her everything was going to be OK and if she is strong I can be strong.”
What befuddled DeSantiago was that she was a healthy adult – she said she ate well and ran seven miles three times a week.
DeSantiago also said she learned a lot about herself, such as, “Life is short.” She added, “I've been running for years and eating healthy – this can happen to anybody.”
Tests ruled out a genetic cause of her form of breast cancer. However, she said one of her brothers is beginning treatment for colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with last April.
“That's a lot for my mom, but she's making it.”
Like so many others, DeSantiago's journey wasn't alone.
“I met great people. People I never talked to before,” she said.
Among those who helped her the most were her church family at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Dr. Ray Page at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Weatherford, her immediate family – especially her sister, who cleaned the drains at her house – and her friend Luis, with whom she ran and got to know better one week before her Feb. 28 surgery.
“He showed up at the track and we've been together ever since,” she said. “He's been there with me and is still with me.”
“People say they don't know how I can do this, but I know they'd do the same thing,” she noted. “I had faith in God – 'Jesus I trust in you' – that's on our van,” she said of her family's DeSantiago Carpet Cleaning business.
She didn't take a long hiatus from running. Three weeks after her double mastectomy last February – the cancer had migrated into her left breast – DeSantiago said she started back up with the regimen of 7 miles, three times a week, with her friend alongside stride by stride.
As she looked back on what made her respond so quickly to the mass she felt in her breast, she said she went for a mammogram right away “for my family. I did it for them.”
As she was in surgery and treatment, she said she felt the prayers of her church family members. Some said rosaries, some lit candles for her and “some have been to Rome and even the Pope did mass for me there. The Pope has heard my name.”
“There's some great people out there; you don't realize it,” she said, adding until something happens. “People are there to support you.”
During her treatment she said the aches were terrible and even a slight touch could ache, but “I couldn't just lay in bed. I had places to go, things to do and people to see.”
Her father and one of her four brothers helped pick up the slack in the carpet cleaning business.
A very stressful period came before her surgery – she knew she needed it, but the Fort Worth hospital denied her because her personal health insurance wouldn't cover enough of the bill.
“The reason I got it was I thought it was going to cover everything that was ever going to happen to me,” she said of her insurance, but found out “most of the cancers are not covered.”
Her surgery, initially scheduled for Valentine's Day, was cancelled the day before the double mastectomy operation because of insurance coverage.
But, she said, “God worked and everything came together with lots of prayers.”
Things changed the following week. Her surgeon went to bat for her, discussed the issue with hospital administration and she said the hospital “gave in.” She added that the surgeon was going to operate for free.
Meanwhile, good news came from the Moncrief Cancer Institute, which she said “stepped up” and covered her hospital, surgery, chemo and radiation treatments.
“God has really been great to us,” DeSantiago said. “Even though I'm going through this, I never asked him why.”
Next for DeSantiago will be 30 radiation treatments over the course of six weeks and she said she will have to take a pill for the rest of her life to lower her estrogen. Then two more surgeries and she said she'll be finished by the spring.
DeSantiago said she, too, would be happy to talk to anyone going through diagnosis or treatment for breast cancer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.