Commentary: Celebrating 50th anniversary of escaping Cuba taught my three sisters and I how to survive, especially when cancer hits

By Dalia Diaz
Rumbo News

As February 11th is approaching, I have been preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my arrival to this country; after all, escaping from Cuba in a boat and being rescued by a tanker in the middle of the Atlantic was no small feat. Now I have to step back and look at my life, what it was, what it has become and wonder where it is headed.

During these 50 years, I accomplished everything I set out to do. Through hard work, I raised two children that turned out to be decent, hard-working citizens; I acquired an education and a good life.

We hear it all the time: As long as you have your health, you have everything!

The past five decades have shown me the importance of growing old healthy. I had the regular ailments of high blood pressure and Type 2 Diabetes which are under control, but deep down, cancer was a very real threat. Both sides of my family had numerous cases of cancer and every time I sent a small contribution to the American Cancer Society, it was a selfish move on my part for it meant advances in early diagnosis and cure that would eventually help me.

Both of my parents succumbed to that disease and a few years ago, my sister Delia who lives in Puerto Rico and is two years younger, had a mastectomy. She was the first one of my generation.

I retired at 64 years of age planning to enjoy my life a little, only to be told ten months later on September of 2011 that I had breast cancer. My world crumbled even though I was not surprised. I had been expecting it due to my family legacy but no one is prepared for that.

Cancer remains a death sentence for so many that it is difficult to overcome the news.

After the first surgery to remove the affected area and seeing my mutilated breasts, depression set in. No one can relate to that, unless they are standing in front of a mirror in the same condition.

In January of 2012 I had a double mastectomy and all year long I’ve been going through the reconstruction process. It has been very painful, depressing and a miserable experience. It was not meant to be kept secret but only my family and very few friends know it because I just cannot talk about it. I am distraught even writing this piece and I am not ready to talk about it on the radio.

Last November, I created an Internet page through Causes.com and requested from my friends that instead of birthday presents, they should make a contribution to the American Cancer Society, raising $525.

What made me decide that it is time to do this is that my younger sister, Rosa who is 45 years old, had surgery just before Christmas for ovarian cancer. Rosa is all alone in Dallas. Then, two weeks ago, my other sister had a double mastectomy, too. Daisy retired at 58 years of age and moved back to Florida from Connecticut a year ago, to have a better life. Four sisters: Four cancer patients.

If I have learned something about cancer is that my small annual contributions helped to improve early diagnosis and there are powerful drugs available now that allow us to live longer lives, cancer-free.

We will be taking Tamoxifen for the next five years to make sure any cancer cells in the rest of the body are killed. At this time, there are over 17 million people living in the United States who surpassed the five-year mark of survival.

My case never showed in any mammography. Because of the family history, I also had yearly MRIs and it was discovered at such an early stage that my doctors assure me that this is the best kind of cancer (if there’s such thing) having been caught early.

This past summer, Daisy asked her doctor to do an MRI based on my experience, and that’s how they found it on her. It also never showed in her mammography.

I cannot but feel saddened by the thought of the four of us being so distant. It’s almost like belonging to a very exclusive club and not being able to mingle with other members. Even when the surgeon told me that it was very minor because it was found early, cancer is a word nobody wants to hear. Had it not been for early detection, it probably wouldn’t have been found until it was too late.

The burden is now on my daughter Susan. She should not fear the future for today’s technology and science is so advanced that we can beat that disease.

Early detection is the key.

Life can throw all kinds of curved balls at us yet, we find the courage to fight them off. I always thought that my 50th anniversary could be a joyous occasion filled with great memories.

Well, it is.

I choose to look at the wonderful life I’ve had full of accomplishments and good times. In the scheme of things, cancer has been really a minor interruption because I prefer to look forward to a long and healthy life.

Life is fickle and we should be prepared for negative events. The most important one is protecting our health.

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