Esthela Galvan Mendez thought it was “silly” for her to have breast cancer because there was no family history. She remembers the day she decided to see a doctor. While grocery shopping, she felt a pain under her arm as she reached for the most beautiful red tomato. She asked her doctor for a full exam, including a mammogram.
She and her husband—it was his birthday—heard the diagnosis together. Hearing “This is cancer,” made a big impression on him. They made several decisions that day. One was to have all her care at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.
“The doctors, the whole staff, have been great,” Esthela says. “I get lots of attention throughout the hospital. I’m grateful for science and its many advancements.
“I never felt dramatic about cancer. I considered myself cancer-free as soon as I had my surgery. To me, chemo was simply reinforcement. I’d look at the person in the mirror who had no hair and think, ‘I’m not that sick. Who is that person?’ I always had the support of my husband and children. My daughters came to all my appointments.”
Even without the appointments, Esthela’s children have active schedules. Three daughters are students at the University of Houston—Downtown, studying philosophy, psychology and microbiology. A son, still in high school, plans to join them next year and major in petroleum engineering.
Esthela learned a lot from her father. A rancher who was active until his death at 98, he taught her to observe nature: “Look at the bird. He doesn’t have much, but he has what he needs to survive.”
She also learned from her survivor’s journey. “I began to value life. So many people helped me, so I want to help others. When my hair started to fall out, I had it cut and donated it. When I die, I’ll donate my organs. Now I know that something of mine can help others.
“I tell people who have cancer not to worry, because it probably does more harm. Live a normal life, but see it as beautiful. Put yourself in the hands of God. I wake up in a spirit of thanksgiving every day, even if it’s just a brief prayer. Now I give more importance to everything.”