By Suzette Rodriguez  

On November 24, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer at the age of 39. I received my diagnosis while at the hospital in isolation with my 4-year-old son Jaden, who has an autoimmune disease.

With sons Jaden, 4, and Anthony, 10

I have been battling illness much of my life. When I was 13, I was diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Breast cancer was an incidental finding. I was having neck pain so the doctor sent me for a CAT scan to rule out a blood clot, since having lupus makes me prone to them. The CAT scan revealed a mass in my right breast and enlarged lymph nodes.

My right breast was removed on December 9, 2015, along with 20 lymph nodes. Due to my underlying medical conditions, I couldn’t have a double mastectomy or reconstruction at that time for fear that I wouldn’t heal properly and that it would delay chemotherapy. I am currently halfway through my chemo treatment plan and am scheduled to have five weeks of radiation once that’s through. After I finish radiation, I will have surgery to remove the left breast and reconstruct both breasts.

I was recently asked how I stay motivated during this difficult time. After careful consideration, I realized that the answer is simple: I want to live! I may wake up in pain, but at least I’m waking up with the ability to feel. Do I have bad moments where I cry and say this is enough? Of course! And I let myself have those moments, but they are just that — moments. I don’t allow myself to wallow in self-pity. I assure myself that today will pass and tomorrow will be better.

Cancer has become a big part of my life, but it is not my whole life. I still work. I still take care of my home and family. It may take me longer because I’m tired or not feeling well, but I make sure everything gets done. I allow myself two sick days a week, and the other five days I make sure to get dressed and go outside even if it’s only for half an hour.

I also remind myself of the positive changes that cancer has brought to my life. I have met amazing people — such as the fabulous women of 5 under 40 — and have formed incredible friendships. I have forged even closer relationships with my husband, mom and sister. Battling cancer has also forced me to tone down my Type A personality (to an A minus), allowing me to enjoy life a bit more.

I want my sons to think that their mom is strong. That their mom may have cancer, but nothing else has changed: She doesn’t look or act sick. She’s their normal mom. Most of all, I want them to follow in my footsteps and believe that they can overcome anything that is thrown their way.