Advice from a cancer survivor and MSUD professor

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Posted Tue, Apr 2, 2013

Dr. Ana-Marie Medina

Dr. Ana-Marie Medina

DENVER, Auraria Campus — Dr. Ana-Marie Medina, a Spanish professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, wiped gushing tears from her cheek, sighed and laughed.

“There have always been things that are very hard, but I feel like I’m so very happy, because they are the things that are the most gratifying in the end.”

The emotional overload makes perfect sense—it is the reasoning of a woman who has experienced the immense intricacies and frailties of life. Somehow, she has managed to retain her positivity, even thorough such tragedies as being diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2011 and undergoing a bilateral mastectomy.

“There are so many moments that are happy,” Medina says. “I don’t think you can define one happy moment, because I feel if we were to connect the dots, all of those dots would make life. Even the moments that we would consider sad, if you look at it in retrospect, you think: ‘yeah, that was a really good moment.’”

According to breastcancer.org, in the U.S., roughly one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. The rate of death in breast cancer patients has decreased from 1999 to 2005, mainly due to new technologies that can detect breast cancer earlier. Breast cancer is also the second highest diagnosed cancer, behind lung cancer, for women. And in 2011, there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
Medina’s strength as cancer survivor comes from her amazing ability to understand perspective and to access the equilibrium of life.
“It’s a balance of finding that midpoint so that you don’t live and hide,” Medina says. “You don’t take anything for granted and you know that nothing lasts forever, so it makes you appreciate everything so much more.”

The Call
Medina faced the long road towards diagnosis and treatment with immediacy and acceptance. Her story started in November 2011, when she received a partial hysterectomy for cervical cancer.

“Right around that time, I developed a bump in my breast and my doctor at that time thought: ‘You’re way too young for anything, so we’re not even going to worry about this,’” Medina says. “So I went back two other times and she [the doctor] kept on saying it’ll go away.”

Finally her mother convinced the doctors to give her a mammogram.

“It was quick. I was actually in class when they called me to tell me,” Medina says. “And the nurse was like: ‘Hi, I just want you to know, we got your results back and you have breast cancer.’ And I was like: ‘WHAT? WHAT?! You don’t just tell people that!’ And I fell to my knees and I called my mom and I was like: ‘Mom, I have breast cancer.’”

After a quick Google search, Medina realized that she needed a bilateral mastectomy, which meant the removal of both of her breasts.

“It’s really traumatic aesthetically,” Medina says. “I’m really fortunate because I’ve studied gender… and I understand the constructs of ideology that society predisposes women to believe, but I think that a lot of women don’t have that and they suffer more from their aesthetics than from the disease itself. It’s harder for women to lose their hair and their breasts, then to actually have cancer.”

Like a true survivor, Medina immediately got active on treatment.

“I had to make sure that I met my surgeon, my plastic surgeon and my oncologist before they decided on a day of surgery,” she says. “So I just did it. In a row. Boom, boom, boom.”

Today, she willingly shows off her new “transvestite prosthetics” (which she bought online for $700 cheaper than regular prosthetics) to everyone, even encouraging some colleagues to poke them to check them out.

Dr. Ana-Marie Medina,

Dr. Ana-Marie Medina

Different Languages
Last March, Medina finished her chemotherapy and turned 32, which marks an incredible challenge as conquered and a new age as just beginning.

“I’m going into my 33rd year of life and I’m a big person on threes,” she says. “I feel like that’s my number.”

As she looks toward the future Medina says, “I mean I still have a lot left, but it’s not big stuff though. I just have like good things left. Like, you know, fill in my boobs, and growing my hair out.”

As for those inevitable days of homework pile-ups and final exams, Medina says, “I look at myself as an undergrad student… I still remember working hard, but having so much fun and enjoying life. And one of the many things that my cancer has taught me is to include more people in that enjoyment.”

Tragically, a large number of people this year will be diagnosed with not only breast cancer, but also various types of fatal diseases. This concept can seem likely to emphasize the futility of life, however, the strength of the human race exists more than in a diagnosis—it exists in the ability to grow, heal and love.

“You just have to cherish everything so much,” Medina says. “I don’t understand people who get upset about stupid shit because, in the end it’s just stupid shit. The big things in life are like love the people around you, treat everybody kindly, smile at a stranger on the street and just make somebody’s day better. Little things like that; they’re so easy.”

About Maureen Bayne

Maureen Bayne grew up in the small town Aztec, New Mexico. Later, she moved to Bakersfield, CA, where she graduated from Bakersfield High School. After attending Colorado State University for two years, she moved to Berkeley, CA, where she studied art at Berkeley Community College. She is currently living in Westminster, CO and is seeking a degree in magazine journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

View all posts by Maureen Bayne

6 Responses to “Advice from a cancer survivor and MSUD professor”

  1. S.L. Alderton Says:

    This is a very well-written story. I just interviewed Ana-Maria too, and she seems like a very strong person.

    Reply

  2. Davy Says:

    Well done story. Excellent quotes used and great job organizing the story with sub-headings.

    Reply

  3. Jen Sasser Says:

    Good story and use of quotes

    Reply

  4. Grace Says:

    well written and relevant. Nicely done!

    Reply

  5. Stephanie V. Coleman Says:

    Her story is an inspiring one. Great story idea to share.

    Reply

  6. Shawn Martin Says:

    I had a class with Medina. Wonderful professor, full of life, This class was Spring of 2012. I was unaware she had cancer. She is a good example that even in your darkest times you can find the light in life.

    Reply

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