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Maria Elena Lopez

In January 2018, Maria Elena Lopez felt a large lump in her right breast. She made an appointment for a mammogram at Smith Clinic, and it was followed by other exams, including a biopsy. The tests confirmed stage II cancer.

Her doctors immediately initiated 13 chemotherapy treatments at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, then 36 radiation treatments at Smith Clinic. In October, she had a right breast mastectomy at LBJ Hospital and is currently preparing for reconstructive surgery. She appreciates the care she received in both places, which she describes as "very good. Everywhere I looked, people smiled and told me I could fight."

When Maria Elena received the diagnosis, she says, "I wanted to die. I felt like the whole world was spinning. I was overwhelmed. I still don't feel complete because I no longer have my breast. A lot of people don't know what I'm going through. I can be laughing or smiling, but inside, I'm troubled. People don't understand that.

"It's an indescribable feeling, but the diagnosis changed my life. It brought with it some family problems, but I will be happy. I love myself. I recently started going to church and realized God loves me in spite of my trouble.

"I'm happy to share my story to encourage other women. Those of us with cancer must be strong to confront the disease. I look at myself in the mirror and see a warrior. God knew I would be a fighter, and that gives me peace. I'm starting to think it doesn't matter if I have a breast. What matters is that I have life."

And with her life, she'll do what she loves most, cook and work. She's a food vendor who loves to make spicy Mexican food. She especially likes to make tamales. "My family and friends told me not to cook so much during my recovery, but my oncologist told me I could." Unfortunately, she can't share with him—he doesn't like spicy food.