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“Pretty girls don’t get cancer” – it’s a sentence you wouldn’t expect to hear from your doctor.
But as Patricia Diaz met with her GP to talk about breathlessness and other symptoms, he’d made the flyaway comment in a bid to reassure her.
She told the Daily Star: “At the time complimenting a female by her looks was culturally acceptable.
“So the statement back then didn’t shock me as I wanted to believe that I was okay and that I would get well with sleep and the medications he prescribed.”
Only a few months later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma – a type of cancer.
Devastatingly, Patricia, who lived in Maracaibo, Venezuela, was told she had the terminal illness at just 16-years-old.
She said: “Life expectancy was anywhere from two weeks, j a limited west allis two months or anytime. The doctors were not optimistic. I was 16 at the time and I was unable to breathe well.
“No one in the family had had cancer before so no one really questioned that first doctor.
“It was a very harsh life lesson for all of us. There were so many things we could have done differently. However, hindsight is always 20:20.”
Following her diagnosis, Patricia was offered a lot of well-intended, but not so helpful, advice and was asked intrusive questions.
She recalled: "Some of my favourite comments were: ‘you need to become like a nun – constantly in prayer’ or ‘is it contagious?’ And even ‘are you going to die?’.
“I loved to respond with a splash of humour – 'yes I will die some day, and so will you.’”
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system which is part of the body the body’s germ-fighting network.
Symptoms can include breathlessness, fever, unexplained weight loss, and feelings of weakness.
There are various treatment options including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and stem cell transplants.
For more information, visit bloodcancer.org.uk.
Miraculously, Patricia underwent a series of treatments which worked and she is now in her 40s and is in full remission.
The author, who wrote the memoir “Pretty Girls Don’t Get Cancer” about her experience, underwent several rounds of chemo and radio therapy.
Patricia also claims she used alternative methods to cope during the difficult experience of being a teen with – what she thought at the time would be – a life-ending cancer.
The author said: “The techniques included meditation, visualisations, diaphragmatic or belly breathing and a plant based diet.”
She was declared cancer free a year after beginning treatment and has now been in remission for over 30 years.
Patricia explained: “It was in 1990 when I was told no more treatments were needed.
“It was a scary time and my family stayed by my side every step of the way.
“I wrote about finding out I was cancer free in my memoir.
“I said: ‘After a pause, the images of my journey flashed through my mind. With another deep breath, I thought of all the people who had been by my side.
“I felt loved. I was bliss.’”
However, despite surviving her cancer diagnosis, Patricia’s life has been affected profoundly by the experience.
She told us: “I’ll admit my 20s and part of my 30s were challenging in many ways.
“For example, dating under ’normal’ circumstances can be challenging. Being a cancer survivor adds a layer of complexity that can be difficult to navigate.
“In my case I struggled through the relationship I had back then.”
Plus, Patricia encountered what she calls “drama vampires” – people who use your trauma and make it all about themselves.
She explained: “My case was in fact very dramatic. But there were a few people that made it about their own suffering. They were easy to spot.
“Whether they realised it or not, they probably had some things to resolve inside as well. Mine were just more obvious.”
Patricia commented: “Another challenge was finding friends that shared the need or interest to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
“They didn’t have to be survivors as well – just people that enjoyed feeling well.
“With trial and error I stumbled my way to my 30s. It was a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs.
“Back then there were not as many support organisations for the ‘after cancer life’.
“I sometimes felt alone in my solitary island of 'wellbeing'. But somehow I always found my way back to what I think has kept me well all these years.”
Patricia added: “Cancer hit my body, challenged my mind, tested my faith, and in many moments, it deflated my spirit.
“And in those tough times, I had people around me to hold my hand or in many cases, to kick my behind.”
Now, Patricia hopes that doctors will give young patients the option of health coaches to “help them navigate lifestyle changes” as well as more support post-cancer.
She explained: “Once the crisis is over, the patient has to pick up the pieces and rebuild a fulfilling life. Counselling and coaching is key for that next phase of life.”
Luckily, Patricia is now in a place of happiness and success.
She said: “At this moment I am happy. As horrible as it was to go through cancer, the experience gave me some life lessons that I treasure."
“Back then, I got into yoga, meditation, and healthy eating (influenced by my sister at first) and now its become my lifestyle.
“It’s hard to understand why I’m still here if it wasn’t some sort of miracle. No complaints though – I take being alive!
“I do feel very in touch with what is real, true and important in life (family, friends and relationships).
“Life didn’t turn out as I thought it would when I was a teenager, but in many ways it has surpassed any dream I had.”
On her novel, Patricia noted: “God, my loving family and my friends are the reason I am still here on earth.
“I wrote my story to honour them, and also to share our story with anyone touched by cancer.
“And special credits to the doctors, nurses and alternative medicine practitioners who helped me through my healing journey. And to cancer patients and survivors … you got this!“
Patricia Diaz is the author of Pretty Girls Don't Get Cancer, which can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold.
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