Komen Nebraska presents “My Journey” – real stories about Nebraskans working together to defeat breast cancer.
Hope for a ‘Queen’
Reina Mendoza has faced one challenge after another in life.
In 2001, she moved from Oaxaca state, Mexico to Illinois, a year after her husband, Agustin, had come seeking work. She left behind her then one-year-old daughter. Eventually, Reina and her husband settled in Omaha. Reina has not seen her firstborn for 12 years.
Today, Reina has four children and more bills. She does not speak English. She has discolored skin due to a disease called vitiligo. In 2012, she felt a lump on her left breast.
Screening and diagnosis
“I was still breast feeding my little one,” Reina says through an interpreter, Araceli Mendoza (no relation), who is also Reina’s Patient Navigator at OneWorld Community Health Centers, Omaha. “The doctor said the pain was nothing, probably just breast milk, and to put warm cloths on it.”
The pain didn’t go away. So, Reina set up a second doctor’s appointment using OneWorld’s Patient Navigator and Education OutReach Program funded in part by a Komen Nebraska grant. The visit led to an antibiotics prescription.
“I came in for the third time and told them I needed some studies,” Reina says. The little bump was growing, and I had a burning sensation.”
OneWorld helped Reina to qualify for a breast cancer screening. Like the Patient Navigator program, OneWorld’s Screening and Treatment Program, funded in part by a Komen Nebraska grant, coordinates breast cancer screenings and treatment for women who otherwise could not afford the services. Reina received a mammogram and a breast cancer diagnosis through a partnership with the Hope Medical Outreach Coalition. Eventually, Reina had chemotherapy and a mastectomy.
Faith and family
Reina is jovial in person. She sheds tears when telling her story, but she wears a big smile. She keeps the mood in the room light. Reina is dignified — her name in Spanish means “queen” — and she is a woman of faith.
“When I found out that I had cancer, that’s when I met God,” she says. “He gave me power to continue to fight, because when I was going through the chemotherapy I felt weak, and I prayed.”
Reina also draws strength from her family. “When I was in the hospital, they always said, ‘Don’t worry about the house. We can cook and cleanup. We’ll do everything for you,’” she says. “They’ve helped me a lot.”
“My oldest always tells me, ‘Everything is going to be fine,’” Reina says. “Even though she’s in Mexico, she’s with me. She tells me, ‘We’re praying for you here.’”
‘Breast cancer is not the end’
Reina has had radiation treatments and her breast cancer is in remission. She needs to find work.
“I’m the type of woman who doesn’t like to be only at home,” Reina says. “I like to work, whether at Burger King, McDonald’s or any fast food place. I just started selling Avon. I think I’m going to sell a lot.”
What does Reina want others to know about her?
“I want to give thanks to Komen Nebraska, the Hope foundation and God,” she says. “I like to share my story to motivate others to continue. Breast cancer is not the end. Look at me. I have one breast, and I’m not worried. My skin is discolored, and I’m not worried. I’m going on with my life.”