Meet Yvonne Yuro, our sassy and hilarious survivor. We first met with Yvonne after the completion of her last chemotherapy session in the Inland Empire. We later joined her friend, Sherrill, at her abode.
During her interview, Yvonne’s positive outlook never faltered. She displayed immense amounts of enthusiasm and was eager to share her journey.
The family history
My parents are deceased unfortunately. My mother passed away of metastasized cancer in 2004. She had breast cancer in the 80s. I don’t remember or recall what stage she was but she did have a mastectomy. She lived and she was a 20+ years survivor of breast cancer. Although, it did metastasized, it came back in her lungs and her body in 2004. She passed away from cancer but back then treatment was different. The only way they knew how to treat breast cancer was removal, so a mastectomy and the lymph nodes. She was also on maintenance medication for a few years. I was in my mid 20’s, about 24 [or] 25. After my mother had breast cancer, I checked myself every month [and] after I turned certain age, they let me have a mammogram every year instead of every couple of years because of my mother. My father passed away from prostate cancer four years later.
The beginning of the journey
Back in the summer of 2014, I discovered a lump on my left breast and it started out small. It was small [but] I knew. I should’ve done something back then but because of personal issues I was scared to actually go check it out. The start day was on February 3rd, 2015. I could no longer ignore it; there was a huge lump that was growing rapidly. I had a mammogram again, after that I was told there should be a biopsy. The biopsy scared me the most, bad enough that the tumor was growing. I just don’t like needles so the biopsy was scarier for me. I had to ask for an Ativan so I could calm myself before going to the biopsy [because] I had really high anxiety. My friend drove me. The funniest thing though, the needle that they use had a clicking sound so before she even started, I was like, “It hurts, it hurts!”
I was scared; I was nervous, and very worried because you don’t know what to do, what’s going to happen. It took about a week later to get an appointment with the breast surgeon. In the meantime, with all that high anxiety, I had an asthma attack. I also had pneumonia at that time [that] I didn’t realize. I ended up in the hospital for three days trying to get better. After that I saw the breast surgeon. She checked me out [and] she said the tumor was growing unusual and because it was a growing tumor, she could not operate on me first. So, my journey was to start with chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor.
Initially it [the cancer] was a stage 2 and it changed to a stage 4. First of all, I knew I had cancer but when the doctor initially tells you, “You have cancer,” your heads in a bubble, you’re not hearing everything. After the CAT scan [results] came in, the oncologist called me in to tell me that the cancer was also in the lung area, it was really small and there were little nodules, maybe two. What scared me the most was I thought it was close to the heart as well. I was lucky to get a biopsy the following week.
In April I had surgery and the thoracic doctor confirmed it was cancer. I hadn’t started chemotherapy yet. This was all within the last few months [of 2015]. Everything happened so rapidly, which is kind of good. That’s how my journey started. You can’t get any lower than how I felt at this time frame.
The first surgery
Within a couple of weeks I started surgery, they removed a little portion of the lungs. What’s funny [is] my asthma hasn’t kicked in after that. I haven’t felt that tightness or anything. I have a feeling that it was probably due to that positive nodule in my lungs. In my family I’ve heard that there were lung problems and that probably could be cancer in the lungs.
The education process
Before even going through chemotherapy, [the doctor] explained what type of medication I would get. Then he sent me to the nurse educator for cancer patients. she explained to me the procedures, what chemotherapy was about, the process, what side effects I was going to have: loss of hair, metallic taste, fainting spells, or soreness of the mouth, all these side effects. Then she showed me the chemotherapy room and once she showed it to me, I was literally so nervous I left crying. I was so upset because you see a lot of people who are sick, they look grey, they’ve lost 30 pounds and here I am, I don’t feel that way. The room was not cheerful. It’s not pretty. Then you see the chairs and you see all the stations where they put the infusions. I left that day upset because I was overwhelmed.
My very first chemotherapy, I was scared because I really hate being in a hospital and having medication that you don’t know what it’s going to do to you. I was given four medications; two were chemotherapy drugs. I was given Benadryl so I wouldn’t get an allergic reaction [and] I was given nausea medication so I wouldn’t get an upset stomach. I was also given Tylenol; I guess you get headaches from the chemo drugs. I’m the worst patient when it comes to inserting an IV but they did it. The nurses were great. I was in that room for a total of seven to eight hours. I had six sessions of this chemotherapy treatment sitting in that chair.
[So] the first chemotherapy went pretty well. Being in that chair for that length of time, you have a lot to think about [but] it went by fast. I didn’t feel anything. The only thing I could remember feeling was this kind of odd was tingling in the chest area and I though oh my God, it’s still growing but I think [it was] the medication working. It was a weird feeling. Second week, I was ok; I didn’t feel anything.
I had six sessions within 18 weeks, so it was every three weeks that I would get a chemotherapy session.
The reaction to hair loss
Third week is when I started losing my hair. I took a shower and my hair started to fall off, I was washing and I went to touch my scalp and my hair started to come out in chunks and I thought oh well here it goes, the venture begins. Prior to that, my head started to tingle [but] I didn’t feel anything in my body. It was expected however and it felt kind of weird. When the hair comes out, it comes out in chunk, like pieces. I didn’t want to have that spotted look so I did whatever I could to see if I could get some hairnets. For four days, I had to put something on my head. I live in the inland empire and there’s a heavy high wind so I was told you should always wear something on your head. One lady, after she had her chemotherapy, all of her hair came out because of the high winds [while outside]. That’s scary, that’s more scary than embarrassing.
My friend, she cut and shaved my head all in one day and it felt really liberating. I was like gosh this feels so good. It was so free; it’s like so this is what it feels to be bald. I didn’t cry. Doing this part of my journey with friends, it was so much fun. I didn’t think I would have this sense of freedom. I loved shaving my head. It gets a little stubbly now [but] I loved shaving my head because it feels nice and smooth. It feels great after you shave it. Always use a men’s razor that has more than three blades. I had to stop shaving it after my sixth chemotherapy because, I don’t know exactly when, but it’s supposed to grow back.
On keeping things sterile
The one thing they tell you is clean clean clean; everything has to be clean because they don’t want any bacteria. Being a cancer patient, your immune system is compromised. I try to really not be in big crowds. I wanted to go to Disneyland, I wanted to go to the Orange County Fair, but I can’t. So, I have to wait until I’m okay, when they [the doctors] say it’s okay. Everything is about cleanliness. Washing my hands all the time. Wearing a mask even if you go to the emergency room or the doctor’s office or anywhere there is a lot of people.
The emotions felt
You get very emotional. My first feeling was I’m not going to make it; I’m going to die after hearing stage 4. My doctor, she was really good. She said, “Don’t look at it that way. Pray about it.” She had tears in her eyes [and] doctors don’t usually hug patients but she hugged me after she told me about the CAT scan results. I only told a couple of people, not even my close friends know, that I really though I wasn’t going to make it; cancer was going to get the best out of me. When you go to the oncologist, they always tell you the worse of everything and it feels [more] devastating than what it really is. That’s how I felt, I felt alone. What do you do? What do you turn to? I had to keep up a front that I’m going to beat this cancer [but] I didn’t really feel like I was going to.
Prior to every chemotherapy session, I was always anxious. I had asked the doctor to prescribe Ativan, which is an anti-anxiety medication, but I only used it once. However, I still got highly anxious because of the needles and hoping the medication was working. Everyday I would be praying and thinking positive that it was working. I know there are times that after my chemo or after the week, I could feel the changes. I could feel the shrinking.
Who helped her during the journey
I have a few friends that have helped me a lot. Sherrill, is the initial person who came with me to my first appointments. She held my hand when I was feeling anxious. She took me to the emergency room or urgent care if I had any problems. My sister, Liz, would come down almost every chemotherapy session or drive me to or from. Jeannie and Lizette, both of them would help me out, bring me food or take me out to eat. If I needed anything, they would come all the way from LA. Natalia and Shaika, they came out for moral support and to make me happy or lift me up when I was feeling down. Also, Bryan and Sharon Shaw, they were a couple that I met at the cancer support group and helped me.
A lot of friends and family members, even strangers, they prayed. I really think the power of prayer – no matter what kind of prayer, I’ll take whatever religion – is positive energy.
Her take on femininity loss
I don’t think I lost my femininity. At my age, I’ve had them [her breasts], they’ve been good to me. Breast or no breast, femininity to me is not your body, it’s how you feel about yourself. At first, the thought of losing my breast was a big thing; it’s part of a female body. However, when it comes down to having breast or having cancer come back, I would rather have my breast gone. When I was told that I might have a bilateral mastectomy, I thought I’m fine with that. I get new breast! I might be able to get reconstruction surgery. But because my cancer was stage four, my doctor said that it wasn’t recommended that I get reconstructive surgery because it might come back. So, I asked her, “If I can’t have reconstructive surgery, will you give me clean lines?” I thought that I could just have them tattooed if I couldn’t have reconstructive surgery.
Debunking any assumptions or misconceptions
You can still be a whole person even though you’re affected by breast cancer. Breast cancer treatment is all individual. Since treatment has changed so rapidly, everybody goes through treatment differently from another person. My sister had a different treatment. I had friend going through this in Arizona who goes through this every two weeks whereas I went through it every three weeks, and she’s stage one. Everybody is treated uniquely.
Her advice to those recently diagnosed and their support system
The best thing I can say to do is if a person has a friend or a family member that has cancer, always check on them. I even told a friend, “If I don’t call, call me. Check on me. If I don’t answer, don’t give up.” Say, “Hi, are you ok? Do you need anything?” Be there in that sense.
To the individual, you may want to sleep most of the time but you have to get up. Force yourself to eat, to drink, [and] make sure you get your proper nutrition. Drink lots of fluids even though it’s so hard. But, if all you can do is get up, drink or eat a little bit because you’re so fatigued, then rest. The doctor was telling me, “Don’t take too long of a nap during the day” but I couldn’t do that if my body said otherwise.
Try to think positive. When a family, friend, even strangers, come up to you, be open about sharing. It will help you along the way. If you share a little part of your fear, there is someone out there that will share their experience too. Sharing helps you heal. You’ll feel less alone and it just makes you feel good. The one thing for me is I go day-by-day, hour-by-hour. Appreciate every little thing and surround yourself with positive people. You can survive; you will survive. It’s just another road.
Highly anticipated good news
I am so thankful. Before every treatment you would have to get your blood work done, and every treatment, my [white cell] levels never dropped. I don’t know how but my body did it.
After the doctor told me that I was cancer free, I had to say, “I am a survivor.” I really didn’t think I was going to be a survivor. I still am a little bit in denial that I am. I’m so cautious because I still want to hear from the radiologist. How can you be a stage 4 and not have radiation? There’s a possibility I may not need radiation.
Words from Sherrill
When she first told me about the lump, I lost it. I was angry at her [sic]. I kept telling her, “Yvonne go get an appointment, go to an appointment.” It was to the point where I called to set an appointment for her but I couldn’t remember her address because Kaiser Permanente, they verify using that.
When she finally got the results that it was cancer and that it was stage four I was like, “Are you going to fight” and she was indifferent. I said, “Yvonne, no you don’t have the right to take my friend from me. You are going to have to fight or you are going to have to fight me. Those are your choice ‘cause [sic] I don’t want to beat you up because you have cancer.”
I was such a bully to her. I was always like, Yvonne, are you eating? Yes? What did you eat? That’s how most of our conversations started. Did you eat? Are you sure? Are you hungry? No, I ate. I had some food. Well, what do you have left? What are you going to eat? Yvonne where’s your mask? You need a mask on. But she needed that. She didn’t need someone who would coddle her.
A Note from Yvonne
Yvonne would like to extend her thanks to her support group: Sherrill Anderson who has been there from the entire process of my journey; Natalia Gutierrez; Lizette Del Rosario; Jeannie Dasalla; Shaika Smith; Ophelia Gua; My sister, Liz; Moody, who drove me to and from chemotherapy and a fellow breast cancer survivor; My cousin, Julie Fajardo, also a breast cancer survivor; Bryan and Sharon Shaw who took me under their loving wings and introduced me to Hillside Community Church Challenging Cancer Support Group; and to many more family & friends who prayed for me.
Blends would like to extend our thanks to Yvonne for sharing her journey and to Sherrill Anderson for opening her home to us.