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Mirtha Retes

Mirtha Retes tears up when she discusses her cancer, so her husband, Cesar Vigil, speaks up, “She’s my life, my heart.” He’s not only her spokesperson, he’s her constant companion and caregiver.

Mirtha and Cesar moved to Houston from Peru in 2016. They both worked at Chick-fil-A as they adjusted to life in America. A few months after their arrival, Mirtha felt a lump in her right breast. She thought nothing of it; since her diet had changed with the move, maybe it was fat. But a month later, there was another lump. This one was larger and painful.

She priced a mammogram, but with no insurance, she couldn’t afford it. Someone suggested she go to The Rose. The results were devastating: Stage III breast cancer, the same disease that had taken her mother. Mirtha blamed the U.S. lifestyle, but a friend told her, “Don’t blame the U.S. Thank God you’re here where you can be treated.”

Today, she does just that — she thanks God for Harris Health System where treatment was available. She had seven months of chemotherapy at Smith Clinic, then surgery at Ben Taub Hospital. Since her cancer is genetic, the doctors recommended removing her breasts and ovaries. She had radiation therapy before the final surgery.

Mirtha gets sad about her cancer and depends on her husband and their daughters, ages 21 and 11, for support and strength.

“We’re very grateful to Harris Health,” Cesar says. “The doctor and staff have been patient to answer all our questions. They explained the side effects, what to expect and how to handle them. I felt so bad for her, but I’m proud of her strength. She wouldn’t give up.”

That’s because Mirtha looks forward to the future. She’s eager to work again and give her daughters a life they wouldn’t have had in Peru.

Now Cesar and their older daughter work at H-E-B. Once the family is financially secure, she will start school. The younger daughter has adjusted well to school and life in this country.

Mirtha encourages others with cancer to “be strong. With faith everything is possible. Have the mentality you can do anything.” Cesar thinks women should be informed about breast cancer, especially if it’s in the family. He and Mirtha will encourage their daughters to be screened at age 25.