This too shall pass: A breast cancer survivor’s story

  • Published
  • By Lanorris Askew
  • Robins Public Affairs
Turning 40 is one of those milestone birthdays. For some it's a new beginning - a line in the sand, of sorts, between the first and the second part of his or her life.

For Tech. Sgt. Tina Acevedo, it's part of a cautionary tale.

"I was diagnosed on my 40th birthday with Stage 1 Triple Negative Breast Cancer," she recalls. "It's a subtype of invasive cancer. They don't know the cause, which makes it tougher to treat."

The diagnosis In May 2009, Acevedo was an average wife and mother of four going through the day-to-day things moms do - helping with homework, cooking and cleaning, getting the kids to meets, matches and games and, as she can now see - forgetting to take care of herself.

A career military member, the North Carolina native was set to attend the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. As is customary, a series of medical appointments were part of her preparations. Since she would be turning 40 in a few weeks, a mammogram was recommended.

"I told the doctor I would take it once I came back, secretly thinking I would probably just put it off again since it wasn't a concern of mine," she explained.

With no family history of breast cancer, and a pretty healthy lifestyle, the disease wasn't something she thought about. Call it luck or divine intervention, but an opening at the base radiology department became available before her TDY and, though she tried to get out of it, a very persistent technician persuaded her to come in.

That appointment perhaps saved her life.

"I was given my mammogram, and then asked to sit while the doctor took a look at the film," she said. "I was later told I would be having an ultrasound. I told them I was going TDY and didn't have time. But the technician told me, 'No, you're having one right now.'"

The ultrasound revealed a tumor.

"I wish I knew who the technician was," she said. "With the type of breast cancer I had, it would have spread to my lymph nodes by the time I would've come in to be screened, and I may not be here telling my story."

Getting through Treatment was tough. It took the Air Force Reserve Command member to new lows.

"I'm a strong woman," she said. "I went through natural child birth and gave birth to twins, but nothing could have prepared me for chemotherapy."

Not willing to give up, Acevedo decided to participate in a clinical trials study where she received standard breast cancer chemotherapy but also received an additional chemo usually reserved for colon rectal cancer patients.

"A lot of people told me I was crazy, but I wanted to receive additional care and follow up. If it weren't for a lot of brave women before me who participated in a clinical trial, I wouldn't be here today. This was my way of giving back."

She went through six months of chemotherapy and radiation every weekday for four months.

Today, her cancer is in remission, and she's leading a full life with her 6-year-old twins - a boy and a girl. She also has 9-year-old and 16-year-old daughters. Acevedo said she believes she's stronger for having been through the experience.

"When you're diagnosed with cancer, you start to think about things you normally wouldn't," she said. "Like, 'What happens if I don't get through this?'; 'Who will help my husband take care of my children?'; 'Will they remember me?'

"Now, I can't think of anything I can't get through," she added. "I got through chemo by repeating to myself, 'This too shall pass.'"

One of her main goals is to tell her story and help educate others.

"Please don't be mislead by thinking only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk; I was the first in my family diagnosed," she said. "Although breast feeding may lower your risk of breast cancer, it doesn't mean you are exempt. I breast feed all four of my children, and my oldest until she was a year old."

She added that conducting self-breast exams, regardless of age, is vital.

"I've seen woman receiving chemo at 28 and 58," she said. "Take care of yourself first, and pay attention to your body."

"I was bald, bed-ridden and going through chemo in October 2009, and I watched survivors and volunteers from all walks of life raising awareness on TV to find a cure," she said. "It was comforting, and gave me strength and hope to know people were walking for me when I couldn't. This year, I'll walk for those who can't."