Idolina Villalobes was young, just 38, when she discovered a small lump in her left underarm. She didn’t pay much attention, but it moved closer to her breast and kept growing.
In January 2012, she visited her doctor at Harris Health El Franco Lee. The doctor immediately ordered a mammogram, then an ultrasound and biopsy. When she gave Idolina the diagnosis, the doctor also offered her support. “She assured me that she would be there to help me and keep me in her prayers. She told me everything would be okay.”
Idolina’s concern was for her four children, ages 5 to 18. “I don’t work, so they had always been my job. They never even had a babysitter,” she says. They were her motivation.
The cancer was aggressive, so things moved quickly: tests to determine if it had spread, chemotherapy, a mastectomy, more chemo and radiation. A second mastectomy was scheduled when a BRCA exam revealed that she is at high risk of more cancer, though there is no family history. “I didn’t want to go through this again,” she says.
Her experience inspired Idolina to encourage other patients. “I tell them to do their part, and things will work out. I also tell my relatives and friends to have a mammogram.”
Cancer has changed Idolina’s life. Before the cancer, she spent most of her time at home, dedicating her life to her family. Now she goes out more, surrounding herself with people and enjoying all that life has to offer. She walks for exercise. She’s added more fruits and vegetables to her diet and feels much better because of her improved eating habits.
Idolina thinks of herself as a survivor, partly because of all the support she received from her husband, her mother, her sister and her friends. “Everyone prayed for me, and I have faith in prayer. People are still looking out for me.”
She received her care at Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital and Harris Health Smith Clinic, where she credits everyone with being very nice, very personable.
“The Pink PENs, breast cancer survivors who serve as Personal Experience Navigators, were a great source of encouragement and support. They knew what I was going through. They’re survivors too.”