A self-exam in early 2018 revealed a lump in Graciela Gonzalez’ right breast. She was visiting Mexico at the time and had a mammogram there. When she returned to Houston, she had a second mammogram and received a diagnosis of stage I breast cancer.
“From the moment I felt the lump,” she remembers, “I immediately knew it was cancer.”
The feeling could have been intuition, but more than likely, it was her medical background. Graciela was a practicing physician in Mexico. She retired 30 years ago and continues to stay informed.
Her oncologist, Dr. Kelly Casteel at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, scheduled surgery to remove the mass and some lymph nodes. The operation was followed by 23 chemotherapy treatments over 12 weeks, also at LBJ Hospital. Like many who receive chemo, Graciela lost her hair. “I thought it was funny,” she says. She has three sons who have no hair, so “I had compassion for them.”
She began a series of radiation treatments at Smith Clinic. On July 13, 2019, she rang the bell signifying her last treatment and, at age 80, a new beginning.
Graciela believes stress may have contributed to her cancer. For many years, she taught evangelical Bible classes all over Texas. Since her diagnosis and her journey to wellness, she has trained six instructors to replace her. Ironically, letting go of her teaching has deepened her relationship with God.
“During my recovery, I had no option but to rest. I talked to God more and developed a more personal relationship.”
Her family was a huge part of her recovery. In addition to her sons, her daughter, also named Graciela, was a constant, as were her 12 grandchildren. She got lots of hugs.
Close relationships with her doctors were also vital. She followed their instructions as closely as possible (though she did occasionally enjoy a forbidden iced coffee). Of her entire medical team, she says, “I always felt respected and loved.” To show her appreciation, she took gifts and snacks to the staff.
Graciela’s advice to others is to trust in God and the medical team, then attend all treatment appointments, and make nutrition and sleep a priority.
“Most important is to remain calm because attitude is important. I’ve always felt positive,” she says. “Even though I knew in that first moment it was cancer, I also knew the battle would be won.”