In 2003, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. Within seconds, my life was forever changed. Although I had insurance, economic stability, great support and was able to communicate with my team of doctors, I was overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty. During the initial diagnosis, I remember wondering: Would I survive this terrible disease? Who is going to take care of my husband and two young daughters? I was afraid of leaving my young children behind with a grieving dad. Although I am not afraid of dying, I was afraid of leaving my loved ones behind in total grief. Not knowing what was going to happen to my family was the most agonizing experience of my breast cancer diagnosis. As a Latina, I was extremely fortunate that my cancer was detected at the earliest stage of the disease.
Although I was overwhelmed with fear, my breast cancer experience taught me many valuable lessons and forever changed my life in many positive ways. I discovered an inner strength and passion that I did not know existed. I wanted to find a purpose for my diagnosis and wanted to use my personal experience to help others. As a Latina who achieved the American dream, I feel that it is my duty to help those who are less fortunate and to give back to this country.
As a breast cancer survivor, I know how difficult it is to navigate the healthcare system, especially during a time of stress. In July of 2007, I started helping medically underserved women in the community to access healthcare services. I came into contact with many other women with breast cancer and was especially moved by the experience of medically underserved and uninsured women, especially Latinas, who are at an additional disadvantage due to language and cultural barriers. As a result, I established Curémonos to make a difference in the lives of these women.
With both English and Spanish roots, Curémonos means healing together. Its derivation expresses our mission to empower women through education and support in their fight against breast cancer. Incorporated in May 2009, Curémonos obtained an IRS 501c3 tax-exempt status shortly thereafter in July 2009. With Curémonos, I aim to eliminate the barriers and disparities encountered by medically underserved women, especially Latinas, in accessing medical care and services.
The Curémonos Model engages breast cancer survivors to provide education, advocacy, peer support, patient navigation and interpretation services to other Latinas affected by cancer. Curémonos helps ensure seamless, coordinated care and services, as well as provides Latinas timely access to the same programs and resources available to the English speaking community. Part of the success of the Curémonos Model is our collaboration with healthcare and community organizations to eliminate the barriers and disparities medically underserved women face in accessing medical care and services. A breast cancer survivor noted, “Curémonos plays an important role in the Latino community in that they become our voice and ears. The majority of Latinas are like myself in that they don’t speak English. Curémonos provides us with support programs and workshops in Spanish. Curémonos becomes like our second family given that our extended families are overseas and our husbands work all day.”
For the past three years, Curémonos has been creating a strong movement towards change! Our impact is visible in the Latino community. We have provided patient navigation services to over 100 medically underserved Latinas and educated over 500 Latinas on the importance of breast health awareness and early detection of breast cancer. In November of 2011, Curémonos established a support group for Latina breast cancer patients and survivors. The support program was specifically designed for Latinas, incorporating culturally appropriate materials as well as a patient-centered perspective. All support sessions and educational workshops are conducted in Spanish and are facilitated by Latina breast cancer survivors. As part of the support group and in partnership with the YMCA in Summit, the Livestrong Program is also being provided to our participants.
We are extremely grateful to the Overlook Foundation, Overlook Community Health Committee and the Summit Area Public Foundation for supporting our programs in the community, as well as the YMCA in Summit for providing space free of charge so that we can conduct our support program and educational workshops.
As the founder of Curémonos, I am proud of all of our accomplishments. Most recently, I was selected as one of the Models of Courage for Ford's Warriors in Pink Program. In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to meet my team members: Carol, Lisa, Ruby, Tina, Nicole, Natalie, Irma, Cheryl, Brett and Darrell. Yes, men are also at risk for developing breast cancer; and I am inspired by the courage of Brett and Darrell for becoming the face of breast cancer to bring awareness about the risk in the male population. This trip has been one of many magical experiences that I have encountered as a result of my cancer journey. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to meet survivors who have courageously battled this terrible disease and have become role models in their communities.
In Los Angeles, we participated in a photo and film shoot for the Ford 2012 Warriors in Pink apparel line. The 2012 apparel collection is currently available on fordcares.com. For 18 years, Ford has supported the fight against breast cancer and 100% of the net proceeds from the Ford Warriors in Pink collection goes directly to the cause. I am grateful to Ford’s Warriors in Pink Program for their support. I am going to use this opportunity to promote the importance of breast health education and early detection of breast cancer in our communities, as well as serve as the "voice" for Latinas and other medically underserved women to create awareness in the medical community and media of their plight with breast cancer. I will also continue to collaborate with the YMCA in Summit to provide a common goal of supporting Latina breast cancer patients and survivors both in wellness and social experiences by providing support groups, educational workshops and the Livestrong Program.
We recently celebrated Curémonos’ 3rd anniversary. Our theme for the evening, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” by Ghandi – has been Curémonos’ driving force since its inception. As part of the festivities, we paid tribute to all those individuals who have touched our hearts and made a difference in the organization and the lives of others. The highlight of the evening was our guest speaker, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. His kind words of support for Curémonos were inspiring and encouraging.
“I want to recognize Curémonos for their extraordinary leadership on behalf of Latinas,” said Senator Menendez. “The work you do to provide support, education and advocacy when it comes to addressing the devastating consequences of breast cancer on our women and families is so important to New Jersey, and I thank you. I pledge to you that I am making it my priority to ensure we are addressing the needs of Latinas and all Latino families in New Jersey. Providing Latinas with access to breast cancer screenings, ensuring they are able to receive treatments and that they can continue to lead long, happy lives after a breast cancer diagnosis is too important to let politics get in the way. Together we will succeed.”
Indeed, my breast cancer experience and Curémonos have been an incredible journey! It has been an enlightening and humbling experience to see the kindness and generosity of strangers providing a helping hand without expecting anything in return. It has been a humanizing experience to see the courage of those affected by breast cancer and the compassion of healthcare providers during the darkest hours of their patients. It has been inspiring to have the unconditional support of our visionaries who have always believed in Curémonos’ mission. With these experiences, I reflect on the past and dream about the future. I am excited about all of the possibilities and I am eager to see what the future continues to unfold for Curémonos.