LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Listening to her kids play with her husband by her side is music to Luisa Najera’s ears and she counts her blessings for moments like these every day.
“I’m very blessed. I enjoy every moment with my children and I don’t it for granted,” Luisa said.
It was not long after her second child was born that she noticed a lump in her breast. She went in and was told it was a water cyst.
Months went by and it did not go away. At her next checkup she was again told it was a cyst and to come back in six months if it did not go away. That was in June of 2008.
“From June to two months later I noticed that it started growing and it was painful,” she said.
This time she did not wait, she went in again and saw a surgeon. She was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer.
Luisa had lost her father to cancer, as well as her sister to breast cancer.
“I told myself that I probably felt the way that my sister felt. She was young and she had a young son. And I said that I don’t want to be my sister,” Luisa said while crying.
Her seemingly perfect life was turned upside down. On top of her cancer diagnosis, she also tested positive for a gene that increased her risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
City of Hope’s Director of Breast Oncology Dr. George Somlo began aggressive treatment.
“The total diameter [of the tumor] measured roughly six and a half or so inches.” Dr. Somlo said, referencing a mammogram.
After treatment, the tumor was unnoticeable, but the cancer had spread to her other breast. Her treatment consisted of chemotherapy, medication and surgery.
Luisa decided to go one step further and be part of a clinical trial. Her sister had been part of one when she got cancer and, ironically, even though her sister in the end lost her battle with cancer, the drug that she was testing would become standard treatment by the time Luisa was diagnosed.
Luisa knows just how important research is and that is why she joined a clinical trial herself. She hopes that what she is doing now, will help future generations, just as her sister did for her.
Dr. Somlo said that huge advances are being made in labs across the country and the world. At City of Hope, some of the research is being funded by the Dodgers’ official charity ThinkCure!.
“Our institution and many others, who are leading cancer research, do get the support. So we can develop clinical trials, we can take drugs from bench to bedside, validate their utility and our goal is to find a cure,” Dr. Somlo said.
It has been two and a half years and Luisa is now in remission. But she does have a message for other women — be your own advocate.
“In retrospect, I wish I would have, the first time it was diagnosed as a water cyst, I believed them. The second time, I should have at that point said that I need a second opinion and maybe my diagnosis would have been different,” Luisa said.
Still, with her family by her side, Luisa is looking forward, not back.
“Life is different for me. Most people say I want to do ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ and ‘Z’ when I retire. For me it’s like, no, I want to be able to do all the things that I want to do now and not wait.”
The fourth annual ThinkCure! weekend kicked off Friday night. ThinkCure! is the Dodgers’ official charity and it raises money for cancer research at City of Hope in Duarte and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. For more information on how you can help visit www.thinkcure.org.