“I was in shock,” Lisa Lara-Vega recalls. “The words were coming out of his mouth and I was looking around the room for another Lisa. It was the last thing I expected to hear.”

Coming to grips

Her first mammogram was normal. But a follow-up six months later showed a lump in Lisa’s left breast. Fortunately, it was caught in time. She underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a left breast mastectomy and four more rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.

“I was scared,” she says, following her diagnosis of stage 2A left breast cancer in 2009. Her son has autism and her husband has aphasia and neurological difficulties from a stroke. She worried, “If I died, who would take care of my family?” 

Finding fortitude  

Raised by her adopted grandparents, Lara-Vega comes from a culture that doesn’t discuss illness and didn’t tell anyone until the day before her first chemotherapy treatment. “Everyone stopped speaking to me,” she says.

The parents and staff at Lisa’s son’s school rallied around her. “They would bring meals and babysit,” she says. 

“I received more help from strangers.” She made up her mind to fight the disease, and faith kept her strong through her journey. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” Lisa says. While undergoing radiation, a 10-minute treatment left her feeling like she’d worked an 80-hour week.

"While undergoing radiation, a 10-minute treatment left her feeling like she’d worked an 80-hour week."

Lara-Vega had a hysterectomy because she didn’t want to worry about that aspect of cancer: “I was over the age of 40 and had one child. I told them to remove everything down there.” Now, when she looks in the mirror, she sees a strong woman. A warrior and patient advocate, Lisa volunteers with Susan G. Komen and the American Cancer Society, and encourages women to get their mammograms.

Lisa has been cancer-free for 18 months, and has a mammogram and blood work every six months. She still worries that her cancer will return, but when she looks at her son she tells herself it isn’t coming back: “My son keeps me going.

“There are three words that help me get through every day,” she adds. “Hope. Believe. Faith.”