In November 2009, Lola Guardia felt a lump in her right breast. But it wasn’t bothering her; besides, she was so busy she didn’t have time to deal with it.
When her breast began to harden, she had no choice but to have it checked out. Eligible for services at Harris Health, she began the diagnostic process at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital – mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy.
“I never believed I had cancer,” she says. “When I heard the diagnosis, I was in shock. I couldn’t sleep. Then I decided to be happy and do everything the doctors told me to do. I stopped going to school and broke up with a boyfriend who wasn’t good for me so that I could concentrate on my health.”
She had six months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation. Before her illness, Lola spent a lot of time in meditation. She was a vegetarian. And exercise was a big part of her life. It all dropped away as her self-esteem suffered after her breast was removed. She found support among the staff and doctors at LBJ. She remembers, “I enjoyed being with the other patients and nurses. I realized I was living.”
Lola, a systems engineer, had come to Houston from Bolivia. After becoming proficient in English, she worked as a substitute teacher and taken classes before taking a break for treatment. She started working again during radiation. “I needed to be with people.” She returned to her healthy lifestyle. Today, she meditates, eats well, runs regularly and dances three times a week.
“Before I had cancer, I was a sexy woman, but cancer came, and it made me think about what’s really important. I’ve learned to be happy every day. I’m alive today. I don’t care about yesterday or tomorrow. I make plans, but I live moment by moment.
“I tell other people with cancer, ‘You’re not dead. You’re alive. Enjoy life. Fight for your life.’”
Now Lola plans to return school and complete a master’s degree so that she can teach math at the college level. And she lives by the belief she offers others: “Go with the river; don’t go against it. Things happen for a reason.”