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Finding Her Next Breath: Lena Gonzales’ Journey

Lena Gonzales loves gardening and working outside in her yard. In 2019, after noting that she easily became short of breath, she also noticed pain and changes in her right breast. Her doctor referred her to the Breast & GYN Cancer Pavilion, a partnership between Woman’s Hospital and Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center where biopsies led to an initial diagnosis of stage two breast cancer. After additional scans showed suspicious spots on her tailbone, Lena’s comprehensive team of oncologists changed the diagnosis to stage four breast cancer with metastatic disease, meaning the cancer had spread to another area in her body.

More than two decades after her eldest daughter began undergoing treatments at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center for a brain tumor, Lena started her own chemo journey. Her daughter survived seven years after diagnosis, and Lena was confident in the Cancer Center after the great care her daughter received. “They gave her seven more years,” Lena spoke about her daughter’s treatments. “I wouldn’t dream about going to another place.”

At the Woman’s Breast and GYN Cancer Pavilion, Lena received care from radiation oncologist, Dr. Katherine Castle and Dr. Lauran Zatarain, for radiation therapy and medical oncology, respectively. Lena also underwent a mastectomy surgery followed by a second surgery to remove additional cancerous tissue, both performed by Dr. Cecilia Cuntz, breast surgeon, Woman’s Hospital.

After treatment for breast cancer, Dr. Castle arranged for Lena to see Dr. Suchit Patel, Ph.D., a radiation oncologist, Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center, to treat tumors that had spread to her spine with Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT).

SBRT is a technically advanced way of delivering a high dose of radiation in an extremely controlled and targeted way. According to Dr. Patel, this allowed treatment of Lena’s spinal tumors without negatively impacting normal tissue around the cancerous areas. “The treatment time is also significantly reduced and allows doctors to treat tumors, which can otherwise be resistant to conventional cancer radiation,” Dr. Patel said.

Lena said her experience was nothing less than expected, and the process was easy. The doctors at the Breast & GYN Cancer Pavilion and the Cancer Center took the time to explain every necessary detail along with all treatment options and made sure she was always comfortable. “The people I met along the way were absolutely wonderful. They were professional but talked to me in layman’s terms, on my level, and that’s what I loved,” said Lena.

Throughout her journey, Lena remained cheerful and upbeat, just as her daughter did so many years earlier. She kept a journal with notes from each person she met, saying she would continue visiting them. “I’m still breathing and living, and I thank God every day for these doctors,” Lena expressed. “I believe in them. They believe in me.” Lena is still able to enjoy her yard and garden today.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and we encourage everyone to join in the fight during our signature Geaux Pink campaign. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. and you can help cancer patients with this fight! Visit our Geaux Pink page to learn more.

Fundraising programs such as Geaux Pink help provide breast cancer screenings and other services at no charge to women in the community. For more information on screenings, visit the Breast & GYN Cancer Pavilion website to learn more.