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August 2011 Survivor of the Month – Gabriela Fitzpatrick
Gabriela Fitzpatrick’s Story by
Elizabeth H.R. Osterberger
Gabriela Fitzpatrick’s journey as a breast cancer survivor started the day the doctor told her: “You have cancer” in March of 2007 when she was 47 years old. For her it was not a surprise. “Once I felt the lump on my right breast a week earlier, I had the feeling that I might share my sisters’ fate. I am the 4th sister to have breast cancer,” she says.
Cancer is a family affair. She has 9 siblings and six of them had encounters with cancer at a relatively young age – 4 with breast cancer at ages 39, two at 47, 66 years old, one with ovarian cancer at 45 years old and the sixth with prostate cancer at 55 years old. As it turns out, Gabriela got the “lucky” BRAC1 Gene.
She had a radical bilateral mastectomy because an MRI they detected 2 small cancerous tumors in her left breast as well, she started chemotherapy, followed by radiation. She recalls, “Overall, the whole treatment was not a picnic in the park but with time the dreadful memories are fading. And the most important thing, after 4 years and 4 month, I am CANCER FREE!”
When asked how Susan G. Komen affected her life she says “It was an amazing experience to participate for the first time in my life, three years ago, in the 1st Komen Race here in Savannah. Walking the streets of this lovely city with 3000 people wearing pink proudly was impressive. Among all those people, from all walks of life, with their own sad and happy stories to share, you can feel the extraordinary strength and conviction that if we work together, WE WILL find the CURE.”
Gabriela wants to spread the word that “Breast Cancer does not distinguish between races, genders, religions or age. It does not matter if you have a family history or not, though it is very important to know what runs in your family. I was aware very young of my chances and I started at 28 years old to have mammograms and annual clinical check-ups. But that was not sufficient – what saved my life was my inner voice telling me: “You haven’t done a self breast exam in a long time.” Even though I had a mammogram six month ago, I detected a lump on my right breast. Always follow your instinct.
Cancer does not inform you “who or when” it is going to touch, but you have the choice to tell cancer “how” you are going to live with it. So do not be afraid. Get all the information you need to take informed decisions. Trust your team of doctors and nurses and be compliant with the treatment. This is a challenge that you do not need to face it alone. Allow your family and friends to help you. They have the same goal as you do…to see you getting better and enjoying life with them. ”
A strong advocate for breast cancer awareness, Gabriela says “I discovered that sharing my experience, especially with my fellow Latinas gave me a sense of purpose. I did not go through this ordeal just to survive and be done with it. Raising awareness helps with early detection and will help with higher survival rates among the Latinas.”
She quotes some statistics about Hispanic women, “An estimated 14,000 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in U.S. Hispanic women in 2009, with more than 2,200 deaths, making breast cancer the leading cause of cancer death among Latina women in the U.S. Breast cancer in Latinas is more often diagnosed at a later stage (when the disease is more advanced) than when found in non-Hispanic women.” This quote comes from Latinas and Breast Cancer Target of Major International Study with $1 Million Funding from Susan G. Komen for the Cure®