“This is not possible; I’m a healthy person without any family history of cancer.”

Celia Mendez Flores recalls her breast cancer diagnosis and the harrowing months of treatment and fear that followed. Celia's story was originally aired as part of Out of the Loop, season 5.

Hello my name is Celia Flores. I’m a first generation Tylerite, born and raised here from immigrant parents. I am the oldest of five children. And I have followed in my family footsteps and have five blessings of my own with my high school sweetheart. I am a three-year cancer survivor. 

In the spring of 2017, I started the morning like I always do, by getting in the shower. This time was different. I noticed a lump the size of a pea. I immediately thought, “It’s nothing, just a swollen node.” At the time, my dad was in the hospital with heart complications, so I didn’t have time or energy to have any health problems. 

I pushed it away and went on with my day. A couple of weeks later, I’m back in the shower. As the water is pouring down, I suddenly notice the pea size had grown into the size of a grape. My heart began racing, and suddenly the water felt way too hot. “Surely it’s nothing.” But this time, I made a point to get it checked out.

 At the examination, she did in fact feel the lump and ordered a stat mammogram. They saw two tumors on my right breast with two inflamed lymph nodes. I had one tumor on my left breast. The radiologist recommended I have a biopsy done and got me in the next day to perform it. 

📷 all photos by Chris French

On July 2017, I received a call from my primary care doctor to give her a call back. “Hello,” she said, “Is this Celia Flores?”

“Yes ma’am, this is she.”

“I’m sorry to inform you, but the results came back positive for ductal cell carcinoma. Please come to the office so we can discuss treatment options.”

“Yes ma’am, I will.”

I was in a complete state of a shock. It felt like a dream. “This is not possible; I’m a healthy person without any family history of cancer. She made a mistake,” I thought in my head.

The following month, I had a bilateral mastectomy.  I didn’t realize there were so many types of cancer, but I learned that mine was called ER/PR-negative stage 2 invasive ductal cell cancer. I had genetic testing, and it came back negative. 

I started chemotherapy in October. The red devil, they called it. I lost all my hair by my second chemo treatment. Chemo made me very nauseous even with anti-nausea medication. I could barely eat the first couple of days after treatment, and everything I ate tasted like metal. I had to chew on ice while getting my infusion so I wouldn’t get sores in my mouth. My fingernails and toenails were turning black. I had terrible bone pain after my Taxol infusions. I felt like a 90-year-old lady. I developed chemo-induced neuropathy which caused numbness and tingling like ant bites in my hands and feet.

Being scared and in pain was my new reality. I had about 30 radiation treatments to my right side of my chest. And about six months later, I had breast reconstruction. 

The people in my life had different reactions to my cancer. When I told my husband he was in shock.

“You can’t have cancer. We have kids. I can’t live without you.”

My kids were very positive. “Mom you got this!”

Some of my friends distanced themselves from me, because they couldn’t handle my diagnosis or felt bad and didn’t know what to say. 

But I was truly blessed. God brought the best people to support me in my journey. I had friends go with me to treatments and my doctor’s appointments and always checking on me. I met Alice during my CT scan. She was a breast cancer survivor and had finished chemo treatment. She took me under her wing and told me everything I needed to do to prepare myself for chemo. Flor, also a cancer survivor, prepared me for my chemo. I will forever be grateful for them.

I grew up  in a Catholic household. I attend St. Peter Claver Church. During my diagnosis, I was angry with God. “Why did I have to get cancer?” I asked. I wasn’t ready to die. I couldn’t leave my children. They are my reason for living. My son was just a year away from graduating high school, and my daughter was turning 15 in a year. I wanted to be there to celebrate her quinceañera.

My mind would race and think of how unfair it was that I had cancer. I became depressed and often cried out to God, begging him for more time and for him to keep my family united and to make us strong in his faith. I prayed the rosary often. It was a way of me finding peace.

On November 4, 2017, about 25 family members and friends from church came into my living room at home. We huddled close together. After we finished praying the rosary, we were told that all my family there was to gather and hold hands as we prayed for my healing. I could feel warm tears coming down on me from those nearby and the warmth of dozens of hands hovering over me. I could hear sniffles in between the prayers and hands and arms shuddering with grief. 

We were all touched by the sweet words and started crying and hugging each other – my husband, children, siblings, nephews, nieces, in-laws, parents and congregation members. I felt loved. It was a very emotional event. I remember the concerned look in their eyes that God would heal me. I could see how they had so much faith; how they were all praying for me. 

I am currently in remission since May of 2018. I still have six month checkups. Currently, I’m on anastrozole and plan to be hormone therapy-free in seven more years.

My hope is that I will grow old with my husband like we always planned. I would love to see my grandkids.

For anyone facing a serious illness, it is a difficult time, but you have to have faith. You have to take care of yourself. Make sure to get tested right away if you’re having any doubt; especially if you have a strong history of cancer. Be proactive in your health care. 

Don’t give up on your dreams just because you have a potential serious illness. Thank you.

Celia Flores is a lifelong Tylerite. She married her high school sweetheart and together, they have five children. When she has free time, Celia enjoys working out, visiting Rose Rudman with her kids and visiting family.

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