Haydee Guzman had lived in the U.S. for two years when she returned to El Salvador for her niece’s first communion. She described heaviness in her breast to one of her friends, a gynecologist. After a mammogram, her friend removed a mass and sent it to a lab — stage III cancer.
Haydee recalls, “I felt as though I was part of a movie and it just stopped. I’ve always been afraid of cancer and asked God not to have it. I thought of my husband of two years, my daughter, an only child. The news would kill my mother. I never told her.”
Haydee had one chemotherapy treatment in El Salvador. She returned to Houston and immediately sought treatment at Harris Health System. As soon as possible, she went to Harris Health Strawberry and was eventually referred to Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital. Oncologists recommended chemotherapy and a radical mastectomy.
At the beginning of her journey, Haydee received a call from Consuela Ybarra, a member of the Ben Taub Cancer Resource Center support group. Consuela talked about her experience. That friendship would later propel Haydee into her current role as a Pink PEN, a Personal Experience Navigator who encourages other breast cancer patients.
Haydee prayed for strength. Still, she worried. She was the caregiver at home: for her husband, her daughter, her father-in-law. Who would care for her?
Her husband offered to miss work and accompany her to chemo treatments, but not having her husband work didn’t make economic sense. Instead, she packed a lunch and reading materials and prepared to spend the day at Ben Taub. Those were special days of forming friendships, an extended family.
The cancer Haydee had feared became a blessing. “I learned to cherish every day of my life. I’ve met so many survivors who have become sisters with the same pain, the same experience. They understand. I’m so thankful for the hospital, the doctors and nurses. I never had one bad experience.”
The opportunity to be a Pink PEN was a special blessing. “After meeting Consuela, I knew that I needed to give back and help other women. I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can too.’”