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Breast cancer survivor urges women to get regular screenings and mammograms, thanks local non-profit ‘The Rose’

The first time Ediana Quijada found a lump in her breast, she was laughed off and told “it was happening because of her period and nothing to worry about.”

It was far from nothing. After a six-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, the cheerful Houston native is happy to share her story with other young women, advising regular breast exams, early detection having made a key difference in many cases.

In the fall of 2012, 29-year-old Ediana was finishing her construction management internship at the University of Houston.

The internship did not offer health insurance but UH hosts free mammography screenings in October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. However, when she told the nurses about her lump, they assured her, with a cursory glance, that she was too young to worry about cancer. She was sent away without a mammogram.

Reassured and a little abashed about being paranoid, she busied herself with assignments as the stresses of the semester took over. The second of four siblings (two sisters, one little brother), Ediana said she had no reason to suspect the worst because there was no history of cancer in her family.

But the lump wouldn’t stay quiet.


“I started feeling that the little lump was getting bigger and bigger,” Ediana said. “I could measure it; it was an inch now. Or is it in my head? Then I would calculate, my period must be coming, that’s why the lump’s getting big … and my breast is turning pink.”

A visit with her mother’s doctor in December confirmed the devastating news — a large mass in her breast. Could be a tumor. Clearly, the cancer had made good use of the two-month delay.

“I didn’t have insurance, so my mother took me to a walk-in clinic,” Eidana said. “The doctor said, ‘oh my God, why didn’t you come before?’”

A few hours and one $100-ultrasound later, she was advised to do a biopsy.

“The biopsy cost over $2,000, I thought ‘I can’t do that right now,’ and he (the doctor) referred me to The Rose,” Ediana said.

That first encounter with The Rose marked the beginning of Ediana’s long, painful but ultimately successful battle with breast cancer. A Houston-based nonprofit group, The Rose provides breast cancer screenings and treatment regardless of patients’ ability to pay. They began Ediana’s treatment by conducting another ultrasound, this one costing only $10.

A little monster inside your breast.

Ediana was paired with a patient navigator who helped her through the system and set up her appointments.

“It turns out I was Stage 3, Type C, which is borderline Stage 4,” said Ediana. “Very aggressive and very bad. They said, ‘it looks like you have a little monster inside’.”

Given the tumor’s massive size, treatment had to begin immediately. When three painful rounds of chemo (each lasting around eight months), one round of radiation and one surgery failed to eliminate the cancer, her doctors put Ediana on an–at the time–experimental drug called T-DM1.

“This was a medicine for people that were hopeless, like Stage 4,” Ediana said. “They said ‘we’re going to try this on you because we have nothing else to give you.”

Recovery

Ediana was on the experimental drug for a year before it started working.

“So that was by 2015,” she said. “I was pretty much living at the hospital by then.”

After finishing treatment, Ediana was placed on a preventative medicine. She must keep returning for regular checkups.

“I have to go every three months,” she said. “So far, I’ve been doing great and I’m very, very happy. And hopefully it just stays like that because it has been a long ride, a tough one. But I was very blessed because even though everything looked very dark, it ended. I ended up okay.”

Ediana credits The Rose and her family for her recovery. Her battle with cancer was not only painful, it was also a roller-coaster ride of intense emotions.

“I would be angry one week, and then sad the next day,” she said. “I’m blessed to have such a lovely family.”

Ediana also shared other things she’d learned during her treatments. When the body is busy fighting cancer, it puts other functions on hold. Ediana recounted an impulsive trip to the beach that left her skin red and sunburned for the better part of a year.

“There were no new skin cells generating,” she recalled with a laugh. “I looked like a lobster for months. My doctor was so mad.”

Now in her thirties and back at work, Ediana is waiting for things to return to normal. Her skin is back to its original color. Her head, which she referred to as ‘the coconut’ on account of its hairlessness, now sports a mop of shoulder-length brown hair.

“When my mom heard I was talking to the Chronicle, she said ‘tell them how your life was saved because The Rose helped you,’” she said. “Without The Rose I had no idea what to do, I had no funds.”

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