November 14, 2003

Breast cancer survivor shares experiences at conference

By Joseph Peña

In March 1999, Raquel Allen had her first scare.

Doctors found a lump in Allen’s breast. The biopsy didn’t return any life threatening information.

One year later, Allen, a volunteer for Y-Me San Diego, the local affiliate of the national breast cancer organization, underwent another biopsy. She tried to ignore the nurse’s persistent calls for her follow up visit. If it was nothing the first time, it was nothing now, she told herself.

When Allen finally showed up for her appointment, the results from the biopsy were not good.

“I was numb from head to foot,” said Allen. “All I remember her [the doctor] saying is ‘You have breast cancer.’”

Allen’s family history was haunting her. Losing her mother to breast cancer in 1987, her youngest sister’s diagnosis in 1994 and her other sister’s diagnosis in 1996—the pain and the shock was all too fresh now.

Allen opted to have a double mastectomy, though cancer had only been detected in her right breast. Mindful of her family’s history, Allen had considered an elective mastectomy for years.

After the surgery, the doctors were in shock. Allen had more undetected cancer cells in her left breast than in her right. The surgery saved her life.

Awareness is really what saved her life, Allen told a group of more than 100 women at Catalina Magazine’s Mind Body and Soul Tour stop last week in San Diego.

Allen fought for years to have her healthcare provider cover biannual mammograms, instead of the standard recommended annual mammogram. Her regular checkups and the information she’d gathered on breast cancer saved her life.

“You have to become your own advocate,” Allen said.

In 2004, more than 11,000 Latinas will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 10 percent of that number will die from it.

Allen said part of the problem is information. Women have to be informed and do regular self-examinations to take care of their health.

San Diego was the last stop in a six-city tour for the bimonthly English-language magazine that is geared toward “today’s Latina… educated, career driven, mindful strong, sophisticated, savvy mother, wife, daughter and sister.”

Catalina is the only national publication owned and founded by a Hispanic woman.

Allen was one of four speakers on the stop.

Allen was joined by Belita Moreno, a cast member from the George Lopez show, California State Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez and Candy Raya, a business owner in Chula Vista. Jorge Moreno, a 2002 Latin Grammy Award winner, provided entertainment for the stop.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘There are no professional Latinas [in businesses],’” said Cathy Areu Jones, the founder and editorial director of Catalina Magazine. “That’s what Catalina is about. It’s to show people that there are professional Latinas and it shows people who we are.”

Joseph Peña is an intern for the UCSD San Diego EXPORT Center and is a journalism student at Point Loma Nazarene University. The San Diego EXPORT Center is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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