Liliana Varela Canal first had breast cancer in 1999 when she was living in Colombia, her native country. She felt a lump, but she was preoccupied with her brother’s early death of a heart attack. A year later, she couldn’t ignore it. She had a left-breast mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. She was cancer free for 13 years.
In 2006, she started seeing doctors at Harris Health Vallbona. She went to Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital for annual check-ups because of her medical history.
“Once you have cancer, everything makes you think cancer,” she says. “Every morning I stood at a mirror and rubbed lotion on my body. I started noticing a change at a bone in my chest.”
Because of a positive BRCA2 test, her ovaries were removed as a precaution. Soon after, doctors discovered more cancer on the left side of her chest. Surgeons removed tissue from her left side and performed a precautionary mastectomy of her right breast. Radiation followed.
Liliana has an unstoppable, can-do attitude. And she believes that diet and exercise are essential to good health. She eats nothing fried; no red meat, white sugar or white rice; and very little flour. She eats vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, brown rice and pasta. Swimming was important to her in Colombia, but in the U.S., she says, there’s no time. She walks as much as possible.
Liliana is especially thankful for the support she received from her son, her mother and sister. The prayers of friends provided her good energy.
The first time she had cancer, Liliana’s doctor told her she would die. She told God she wanted to be with her 4-year-old son, Daniel. “Daniel made me strong. Now he’s 18 and mature. He would be okay, but I want to see him older.
“When you go through cancer, you learn to appreciate the gift of life. I would tell other patients to find time to be peaceful in mind and spirit. Believe in something — any God that works for you. Pray.
“Most important,” she says, “always, always listen to your body. Don’t let anyone say you aren’t right. Raise your voice and stand up for your life.”