Battling Cancer: The Journey from Diagnosis to Recovery

The Stories of Mary Chaves and Abby Santiago

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in this country, followed a close second by skin cancer. Every year in the United States, more than 231,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, with 40,000 dying from the disease. Two women, Mary Chaves and Abby Santiago, share their survivor stories. They retell their journey from how they found out about their breast cancer, through their treatments and reactions to the medication; while both expressing the value of support they received. Chaves and Santiago have both tried to make a difference and give back to Hair To Share and the American Cancer Society’s Make a Stripe Foundation. They each look back and share their recovery process and advice.

In our six part series, Battling Cancer: A Journey, we highlight each woman’s struggle with a common life threating disease.

The Story of Mary Chaves

Outside a white by-level home, with black shutters, a husband is raking leaves. His wife sits in a roomy kitchen sipping on green tea with their dog running around the house. Waiting to tell her story, Mary Chaves is mother of two and a full-time career women who has been cancer free for fourth and a half years. Chaves takes sip of green tea, and begins to tell her story.

“Back in 2010, I hadn’t gotten a mammogram for about two years, no more than that, but still a year more than I should have gone,” Chaves explains. It was a week before her 49th birthday when Chaves went to get her mammogram done.
“They actually called me on my way home telling me to come back. When I went back, they wanted to show me what they found on there,” she recalls. “They believed I had calcifications which are in the milk ducts. I didn’t even know what that was. I had no lump, no pain, while some people have discharge. But I had no symptoms.”

According to some women can feel a change in their breast, they can become tender or there could be nipple discharge. But other women don’t have symptoms.

“I didn’t understand how if I didn’t have symptoms, how they could possibly tell me I had breast cancer?” Chaves then had to go for a more invasive mammogram. “When you looked at the picture, you could see the whole left breast was covered in the calcifications. In the milk ducts you could see little tiny, mutations.”

“The hardest part was telling my family. My husband didn’t believe me at all, or the doctor. He said there was ‘no way you can’t have cancer.”

Chaves did her research and knew she had cancer before she went to the doctor.

“I knew exactly what they were talking about. I could actually compare my pictures to what I found out online.” Chaves sips on tea. “So I knew I was in trouble I knew. When I went to see the surgeon, she said “ I know you know” and I said “I do.”

The Story of Abby Santiago

Meanwhile, across town in inside a light blue house, Abby Santiago sits with her family on the sofa, watching television.

Abby Santiago, a mother of three, a grandmother and career women walks to the back of the house to explain her adventure.

Santiago looks lovingly at her 3-year old granddaughter. “She was born when I needed her the most,” she says recalling her journey. “I had support from friends, family, coworkers, and everyone,” before taking a breath. Five years ago her doctor found something on her right breast, which after test was benign. Still, her doctor wanted her to get it monitored every six months. Santiago pushed it off.

Then when her aunt passed away from breast cancer, “It scared the hell out of me,” she remembered. She couldn’t stop thinking about what her doctors told her and she went to get a mammogram. It turned out that the doctor found a lump on her the opposite, which she could feel as well.

Santiago’s breast cancer was found at stage two.

Part two will examine Chaves’ and Santiago’s struggle with surgery, treatment and symptoms. Chaves’ life was on the line while Santiago’s treatment was easier than others.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Melissa Rivera

Senior at MSU. Journalism Major. Freelance writer for NJ 101.5.