In 2002, Maria Isabel Rodriguez Dorantes found a lump under her armpit. It was diagnosed as breast cancer in 2003.
“At first I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought they were mistaken. But I had to face reality. The first thing I did was to place myself in the hands of God. And then I gathered strength to begin the battle.”
Throughout the ordeal, her grown children and husband rallied around her. Her husband had lost his first wife to the same disease, so she often had to be strong for him.
She had four sessions of chemotherapy, a total mastectomy (including 19 lymph nodes) and four more sessions of chemo. Tests prior to Maria beginning radiation revealed cancer in her lungs, bones, trachea and a mass in the area of the mastectomy.
She began a new course of weekly chemo that lasted four years. An employee of UTHealth, she went to work early, left for chemo sessions at Ben Taub General Hospital, part of the Harris County Hospital District, and then returned to work. Eventually, the chemo and steroids that were prescribed for pain management provoked diabetes and cataracts. As she lost her sight, she had to stop working.
Though most of her care was at Ben Taub Hospital, she visited another hospital when a piece of equipment was down. A doctor at that hospital told her she had six months to live. That was six years ago. Today Maria is cancer-free. Her diabetes is under control and cataract surgery corrected her vision.
Her faith gave her the strength to be positive. Anytime she sees anyone who is feeling low, she shares her journey. Many people have left the Ben Taub Hospital Infusion Center or Breast Cancer Support Group with her phone number.
What advice does she offer others? “It’s important not be lose faith; follow the treatment plan; get involved in the support group. It’s difficult, but we have to accept reality. That’s how we win the war. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Now she works part-time and dedicates much of her time to her church.
“Last year, I celebrated my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free – and I turned 50. I threw myself a very big party!”