Maria Aguilera first started noticing symptoms in December 2009—pain in her right arm and shoulder, fatigue, weight loss. There was breast discharge, but she chalked it up to recent breast feeding. The pain moved to her chest. Because of a childhood condition that led to heart surgery, she consulted a cardiologist.
She also asked her primary care physician for a mammogram, but at 38, she was told she was too young. In November 2010, she saw a doctor at Harris Health Northwest who “really listened to me.” After the initial exam, the doctor sent Maria to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital for an emergency mammogram. A biopsy was scheduled.
“I cried throughout the biopsy and the rest of the day, not because it hurt, but because I knew,” Maria says. “I got my emotions out. So when I was told the results were positive, I was ready for what came next. The doctor told me, ‘The bad news is that you have cancer. The good news is that we are going to save your life.’ Hearing that was magical. I believed him 100 percent.”
Maria had a complete mastectomy in January 2011, and then she began chemotherapy and radiation.
“Losing my hair was sad. I care a lot about my appearance. I used to love myself on the outside, so when I looked in the mirror, I saw a different person.”
This disease taught Maria a lot. “I learned that my kids love me with or without my hair. I learned to love myself on the inside. I learned that people are afraid to talk about cancer, but we need to support each other. I also learned that whatever happens, I’ll keep going.
“Cancer can happen to anyone, young or old. Go for help. Get a second opinion if you’re not satisfied. Just don’t say, ‘Later.’ Go now.”
Maria has gone full circle at LBJ. Her 18-year-old was born there (she has other children who are 20, 11, 6 and 4). Now the hospital has given her another precious gift—her health. “Everyone is wonderful. They are my family. They care about me. They don’t see me as a number; they see me as a person.
“I feel like a queen when I go to LBJ. They make me and my family feel special.”