Breast cancer awareness month: Local woman wants others to learn from her experience
One woman is trying to use her experience as a breast cancer survivor to bring hope to other cancer patients.
Thania Calderon was just 34-years-old when she was first diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. The tumors on her lymph nodes were discovered by accident, after her left breast started swelling following a fall in 2013.
“I was working when I fell down in a stairway and I bumped into my breast,” Calderon said. “I went home and my breast started swelling. I started thinking oh my gosh what is that? It wasn’t normal.”
Calderon and her husband went to the clinic where the doctor told her there was nothing wrong. However, the couple didn’t accept that and demanded a mammogram to check out her breast so the doctor ordered her a mammogram and an ultrasound.
“They found two cysts in my left breast and the radiologist said that it was cancer because one of my lymph nodes was swelling,” Calderon said. “One week after that they do the biopsy and the biopsy said breast cancer.”
Calderon said it was a terrifying moment.
“You never expect it at 34 years old to have that and then my son was only four years old when that happened, so it was hard,” Calderon said.
“I was scared because when they tell you cancer, you think I am going to die right now.”
Calderon decided to get a double mastectomy to remove the tumors in her breasts.
Though the cancer was difficult, she said the toughest part was explaining to her then-four-year-old what was going on.
“He was little and my hair was really long and then I have to explain to him why I don’t have hair,” Calderon said. “It was hard. So I have to explain to him what I am going through.”
Her husband, son and a few close friends were the only people she told about her cancer. Her parents were back in her home country of Nicaragua, and she didn’t want to tell them until her tests came back clean.
Calderon said she had to keep telling herself to stay positive and to try to live a normal life to get through the cancer.
“I wanted to think ‘I am normal, right now I am normal,’” Calderon said. “I am not going to die now from this. I was trying to think positive all the time.”
She went through six sessions of chemotherapy and 28 sessions of radiation through 2014 at the Carson Tahoe Hospital Cancer Center.
“I came (to Carson Tahoe) because my doctor told me I can find someone to talk to with what you can do,” Calderon said. “So I came here and (the Cancer Center supervisor) Adriana talked to me and said ‘Everything is going to be fine, there is advanced medicine’ and she said they were going to help me a lot.”
Calderon said to help her through she relied heavily on her faith to give her the strength to beat the cancer.
“Everyday I pray to God,” Calderon said. “If I am going to survive he is going to have to give me the strength because he is the only one who can give you the strength to deal with this.”
However, in April 2014, after Calderon had finished her treatments she started to get massive headaches.
“I got a big headache, a horrible headache and I went to the emergency room and they found out I have a tumor in my brain,” Calderon said.
She had to quickly find a neurosurgeon to operate on her head to remove the tumors. Calderon had the surgery in May 2014 at Renown Regional Medical Center. Luckily, the surgery was successful and the tumor was removed without incident.
“I was surprised because I was normal, like I can walk perfectly, I don’t have any problems at all,” Calderon said.
Calderon is now in her third year of cancer-free living.
“I have been in remission and… I feel great but I am always scared every time I got to the doctor because I don’t know,” Calderon said. “I am happy God gave me more days to live.”
In order to keep herself healthy, Calderon has changed her lifestyle choices.
“I read a lot about cancer about what you can eat, what is good for you, so I have a lot of information,” Calderon said. “I started walking more, breathe a lot of fresh air and my food, I eat a lot of veggies with lemon in water in the morning to alkalize my blood. So that keeps me really good.”
Every year Calderon has made it a point to come back to the Carson Tahoe Cancer Center to show other patients how she’s doing.
“I try to come and let other people see me to see how I’m doing,” Calderon said. “(I want to show them) that you aren’t going to die right away, they have medicine and they are going to keep you alive.”
The Cancer Center raises money though several fundraisers throughout the year to help patients in need with financial support.
“That is good because I saw a lot of people they come in here looking for help and they live far, farther than me and they need gas or wigs they need things and they use the money from that for help,” Calderon said.
Because of the cancer, Calderon has decided to change her career path. She went back to school to become a medical administrative assistant and hopes to work at an oncology office.
“I want that because I want to work with the doctors, I think for me it’s important,” Calderon said. “I want to work with the oncologists because I want to give people hope they can see. I really want to share my story to help other people because when you see on the news especially and on Facebook, you see people die with cancer and it doesn’t really give a lot of hope. For me it’s good because another person going through cancer, they can see me there and they can have hope. They can survive too.”