When Diana Rivera was diagnosed with breast cancer, she knew what to expect. Two of her sisters, one younger and one older, had already dealt with the disease, so she scheduled a BRCA test (a DNA analysis). Six months after having the test, she felt a small lump; a month later, it was a little bigger.
When her sister, Tamara, went to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital for a doctor’s appointment, Diana went along. Before the day was over, the doctor had scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound for Diana.
“I knew what to expect,” she says, “I would have treatment for a time, then I’d become a survivor.”
That was December 28, 2004. The 33-year-old survivor started chemotherapy the next month, effectively shrinking the tumor. She had a bi-lateral precautionary mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
Her husband and three young daughters (12, 11 and six, at the time) cared for her, from giving her medication and picking out her clothes, to changing her wound dressing and monitoring her exercise. “My family faced my illness together,” she insists. “My whole family is the survivor. We turned this into a life lesson for the girls.
“I had two choices. I could approach this as ‘poor me’ or be brave. I got dressed and put on make-up every day. When my children came home from school, I was out of bed. I had no time to be sick or tired. I enjoy life more after cancer. Every morning, with sun or rain, I enjoy life.”
Diana says she had excellent care at LBJ. “I’m grateful. Every person cared for me. Nurses in the Infusion Center truly understood what we went through. Each time I was there, they had me encourage the new patients.”
She has plenty of advice and encouragement. “Feel good about your beauty. It’s on the inside. Be positive, and spend time with positive people. Talk with your sons and daughters about caring for their bodies.
“I taught my daughters to do self breast exams. I told them to be persistent and consistent. I want them to be independent.”
Diana is on her way to accomplishing her goal. Two daughters are students at New York’s Columbia University. The youngest, still in high school, spent the summer climbing mountains.