Forty days after giving birth to her daughter, Paula Galdamez felt a hard lump in her breast. She and her doctor thought it was a complication from breastfeeding. It was not until her daughter was 16 months old that a biopsy indicated stage IV breast cancer. That was October 2016. Two weeks later, she began chemotherapy.
“At first, I was in complete denial,” she says. “The doctor explained, but it was a blur.” There was a lot going on in her life: her marriage was in a difficult period; and two of her children, ages 12 and 16, were leaving El Salvador to live with their father in Virginia. Her 12-year-old came to live with Paula for a year and was her biggest support during treatment.
Paula had chemotherapy and surgery at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and radiation therapy at Smith Clinic. She recently had reconstructive surgery. She has follow-up scans every six months, and a recent one showed a problem in her lymph nodes. She’s participating in a clinical trial — if successful, it will lower the cancer’s chance of return from 50 percent to 20 percent.
“My care has been excellent,” she says. “I was very honest with my children. LBJ’s child life specialists did a great job of helping them understand.”
Paula advises cancer patients to not be silent. At first, she didn’t share her diagnoses outside the family. Secrecy was difficult when she began to lose her hair and shaved her head. She got upset at a doctor’s appointment and cried, “If only I could talk.” Once she opened up, she began to feel better.
“I’m thankful to my doctors. They gave me good advice. I had two choices. I could stay in bed and be depressed or I could get up and be positive.
“Stay positive,” she urges others. “Don’t be ashamed of your body. Get out of bed, put on make-up. Look nice for yourself.”
Paula did just that. On her 35th birthday — yes, she’s a young cancer survivor — she made herself a new dress and enjoyed a photo shoot.
A very talented person, Paula has great plans. She owns a photography studio in El Salvador that her brother manages. During chemo, she created a line of children’s clothing and props, which she sends to her studio where the collection was photographed and sold. She found her avenue for positivity.