[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Hispanic and Latina women and they are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than non-Hispanic women. This is why it is so important to empower Hispanic and Latina women in the U.S to understand their breast cancer risk and advocate for themselves to take control of their health. Today’s guest grew up in a Hispanic household where breast health was never really spoken about. She lives a healthy lifestyle and undergoes regular wellness appointments, including annual mammograms, so when she learned she had breast cancer, it came as a shock. Here today to tell us her story and how her diagnosis has made her passionate about educating the Hispanic community about breast health and the need for greater representation in research and clinical trials is Domenica Lagunas. Domenica, welcome to the show!
[00:01:06] Domenica Lagunas: Thank you for having me, Adam.
[00:01:08] Adam Walker: Well, I’m, I’m very excited to talk to you. Let’s start by talking about your diagnosis. Can you just walk us through what type of breast cancer you were diagnosed with and, and when that happened and, and what was the story around that.
[00:01:20] Domenica Lagunas: Sure. So I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer back in officially in December of 2019. It, it was definitely a shock is that. You had mentioned earlier. For me it was something that was not ex no one can ever expect having breast cancer or cancer alone, especially when I thought I was doing all the things that I needed to do to just be active, take care of myself and, and so on.
So I think for me the experience you know, I, I, I always say, and I pause. There’s not no actually specific words that you can describe when someone has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
[00:02:01] Adam Walker: Yeah, I can, I can only imagine what that feeling must be like. So how did you know something was wrong and sort of walk me through, what was that experience like for you discovering what that, that thing.
[00:02:14] Domenica Lagunas: So I, like I mentioned before, I was definitely leading an active lifestyle. I do remember that it was around the time of shortly after, you know, my, one of my birthdays in the fall. And at the moment I started feeling pain. Again, I went ahead and assumed that it could possibly be because I would have joined.
You know, I was working out, I was lifting weights. I had maybe pulled a, a muscle or something and just, or hormonal changes. So I’m there in that moment, just assuming that it could be all these things and never did cancer cross my mind. Eventually the pain didn’t, you know, go away. It started becoming a little bit more intense on one side of the breast.
And I did feel like to the touch, it was warm and eventually I move and I, and I said, you know, I need to do why don’t I just, I told myself I need to do a breast self exam. So I did one, I went ahead and later found what felt like a small. And I know then that that is not something that was usual and I should be concerned.
But again, I reached out, did what I needed to do as far as contacting my position. I got in to get a mammogram and get screenings get the screening that I needed to get done. One of the things that I did wanna mention was that. I was not too, too concerned until I did find that lump only because initially when I started feeling the pain, like I said, I, over that summer, I had had a mammogram, everything came up clear.
So I think that’s something that I need to emphasize. That’s important to know. I’m glad that I didn’t a hundred percent dismiss it because. Again, as we mentioned earlier that, you know, Latina women are diagnosed at a leader stage and it’s number one, leading death. But in my situation I knew that I need, I need to connect with my doctor. So.
[00:04:08] Adam Walker: Yeah, I’m, I’m really glad you shared that, cuz I mean, I, you know, If in that situation where he, you had just gotten a mammogram, but now you fill a lump, it would be, I think it’d be easy to just assume that it’s nothing and, and just move about your day. So I’m glad that you shared that to, to kind of help give everyone listening pause. If you find something, even if you’ve had a recent mammogram, it’s probably worth, you know, checking out again. So, so you mentioned several times that you were very active, you were lifting weights. I’m, I’m curious. How did it affect you mentally once you were not able to do those things anymore?
Like how did, how did that work work for you?
[00:04:43] Domenica Lagunas: So for me I can say that, you know, active, you know, active mom working full time. Also, like I even worked throughout the majority of my treatments you know, just being involved, I have, you know, three children and, and just being the person, you know, just very involved in.
Each in every way that I can possibly be. Right. And squeezing in those, working out times that I need it just for myself. So taking that away from me and then having to sit back and watch and know that these changes are going to happen, that I’m going to depend on my loved ones. That being my, you know, my young adult children, and then my son and my husband, and it was during the time of COVID.
So I had mentally we already know you know, with the being in pandemic. For me, in retrospect, there was a silver lining in that, you know, some of the things that I enjoyed doing was shut down, like going to the gym. But also knowing that, you know, it really can take an emotional toll. I, I can say that it, it can reflecting.
I have my ups and downs. You know, it’s like grieving, you’re grieving. You’re grieving for, you know, the life. You assume you will have, you know, entering my forties. And, and, and what the unknowns, you don’t know what the unknowns are, you know, will this treatments work, especially if being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, the word alone, it’s like, you know, speechless.
So when I knew that I had to not only. Care of myself physically, how was I gonna do that? So I found other outlets. I knew that, you know, again, I wasn’t much of a Walker, so I decided, you know, let’s, let’s go for walks with my family, my daughters, you know, I think that’s super helpful. They were able to like, just say, let’s find parks that we hadn’t been to.
Let’s go to nature trails. I mean, there was came a point that the chemo gave me a lot of fatigue and I really couldn’t be walking as fast. But what I can say is you know, I did have a walking stick. I had a walking stick you know, that my father had made for me a very personal story. And so that was super helpful.
But just like finding other outlets that at one point. Things that made me like happy and, you know, joy, I find joy in the smallest states. And I think that that’s what we forget, that we tend to find joy and I can say personally and big things, or it has to be like great things and just unique things.
But that was a unique experience in itself that knowing that I can, you know, find peace in nature and embrace myself with nature Find outlets that like that. I also found calm because as you know, when you’re going through treatments, you know, medication and everything else can kind of throw you off as I haven’t flow internationally, but I, it felt like Jack lag sometimes.
So I had the calm app listening to calming music support others. And I do wanna put, say that having a therapist helped because not only was I dealing. You know, my own cancer diagnosis, but the changes that I was going through, my family was feeling it too, as well as a pandemic. And I think I cannot emphasize enough something to touch base with your care team.
Sometimes make it so convenient for you to speak with social workers or individuals.
[00:08:09] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing all that. And, and there is something you said in there too, that I just wanted to call attention to you. When, when you’re first diagnosed, you mourned the life you thought you would have. And I don’t, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody phrase it that way, but it, it strikes me as very profound. So I just wanted to thank you for, for sharing that. So so I, I wanna talk for a moment about your community. You’re a part of the Hispanic community. I I’m curious, how has that shaped your experiences throughout treatment and, and then afterwards.
[00:08:38] Domenica Lagunas: Absolutely. So and then, you know, growing up in the Latino and Hispanic community you definitely learn how to navigate, especially you’re coming from a different country. Like my parents, you know, myself from Mexico and, and so you arrive and you learn to adjust, speak the language and, and, and just becoming resilient.
For me again, just once I came into the stage of acceptance that this was going to be something that I’m going to need to go through temporarily. For me, it was more of a like finding that resilience, accepting it and working with those values of I’m going to push through and I’m going to persevere.
I am going to survive this. Those are innate values and, and characteristics that I learned growing up. And so that helped me navigate these unchartered waters, as I like to say. The other thing I think for me is even now, even now, you know, I’m becoming familiar with the new Domenica 2.0. Like , you know, so, so, and the, the, after the after effects, finding a little bit of the humor. And for me, knowing that growing up in a community where health isn’t really prioritized as it should.
And growing up in a community where I know that most of the things that is prevalent among our community is like diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, but breast health, breast cancer, it’s not talked enough. And I think that those things shaped my experience and, and just as I was reading for myself and learning. On how, you know, the information is very limited for individuals to know, to make that as, you know, part of their wellness visits and you know, and so forth.
[00:10:23] Adam Walker: Yeah. And so, and you mentioned that, you know, sometimes in your community help is not prioritized. I’m curious, are there any other myths or beliefs that exist in your culture that you’ve had to overcome through this experience?
[00:10:36] Domenica Lagunas: Yes. I think, and I’m smiling just because again, these are myths that could have been passed on that’s particularly, you know calling out anyone, particularly in my family or, you know, aunts, grandmothers, but it’s just in general. Right? I think for me it was like, You know, did you know the doses of the radiation that you’re having from mammograms or from the MRI?
If, you know, you have the, these screening done could potentially lead to, you know, breast cancer or cancer. So I think that for me, it’s one of those things where Again, misinformation. Right. Tackling those myths. The other one I would say is you know, we talk a lot about self exams right.
That the importance of self exams it’s culturally taboo to talk about you know, it’s IM you know, Touching yourself, self exams, you know, almost putting, if I think about like adolescence, you know, almost like a shame to it. So it’s not something that becomes natural for us. I’m not saying in all the cases, but I’m saying that, you know, if we’re thinking about, you know, as a community, as a whole you.
We in our culture, you know, breastfeeding is like very, you know, normal. That is the time when you kind of touch yourself and so forth, but also like the self exams are not something that is really, and I like to say that it’s not really talked about because it’s not something that is. Their awareness is not there.
Not to pinpoint, I can’t pinpoint the why, but I can’t say that another third myth that I’ve heard is like, if you’ve breast, you know, as a mother, and if you breast fed that even, you know, down the road or eventually the myth is that if you know, you find a lump or you feel like the change in texture in your breast that possibly could be because of the, you know, you stop producing milk, you know, you once breasted.
And again, I can’t pinpoint where these myths come from, but those are things that I’ve heard. Yeah. Yeah. And I think the last one for me is the bruising. That, you know be careful do not bruise your breast because that can lead to breast cancer or tying it back to the screenings, like in the manner of the mammogram starts on over time.
So those are the myths that I, you know, again, physicians and, you know, Creating that awareness that to dispel those myths, we need to talk about them first. And even though they can be as fun, you know, as, as unusual as, or are just a little humorous, but I, I think, but these can be held true to some individuals which can impede them from going and getting screenings.
[00:13:16] Adam Walker: Yeah. And, and we do need to talk about them. And so I’m curious do you have a large family and do you actively talk about this stuff with them?
[00:13:24] Domenica Lagunas: I do. Not only so my immediate family, you know, just being my children and even my son, because we know that breast cancer can affect males too. Not as, you know, the numbers aren’t as high as females, but at the same time, like for me, it’s just like I’ve always been one to always focus on the wellbeing and, and just, you know, I speak about it even with going through the diagnosis, I actually touch base with everyone.
And I even emphasize like, get your genetic screening. It’s important. Now, if you have the genetic screening necessarily doesn’t mean that you are a hundred percent and I’m speaking from experience. So whoever. Willing to listen and whoever is seeking guidance, I’ve had individuals reach out to me like friends, or maybe some, a friend of a friend that’s going through treatment.
I continue to speak to them about that and encourage those conversations. So try to, the more we talk about it, I believe the more it becomes normal. And then it just becomes now, you know, after that, it’s really up to the individual to. You know, proceed, but I can, I encourage it as much as possible.
[00:14:27] Adam Walker: So, yeah. So I, I wanna explore that just a little deeper for a moment. What drives that passion for educating your community about breast health?
[00:14:37] Domenica Lagunas: Well I think for me is like in. We need to normalize that conversation, you know, to speak to our children and to our loved ones about breast health. What drives the passion for me is that when I was, as, as I had mentioned in reading and just knowing that.
The number one, leading death in women Latina and Hispanic women is cancer. To me that is not acceptable for me. I think about, you know, we all have aunts, mothers, grandmothers, you know, individuals that are close to us. It’s important to also put that in the forefront. We’re nurtures, right? So we.
Are naturally, you know, it’s ingrained in us to like, be of service to others. It’s ingrained to support others to, to just take care of our families, sometimes missing our own appointments. So I think that for me, it’s just, you know, again, speaking to others and saying, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to take time for yourself.
It’s okay to take time for your wellbeing. It is not a selfish. It is it, you know, in order to, for you to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. You know also what drives me is the language barriers. I think about my mom, I think about like individuals that, you know may have had not so great experience with maybe a medical provider.
And then they assume that going forward it’s their interaction will be like that. Mm-hmm you know, we’re very. You want to just build that trust within the Hispanic community to know that this information is out there and we’re sharing this information and the why behind it is because we want you to have better outcomes, you know, and breast health is the way breast health, and speaking about it.
And it’s not to say that you will be diagnosed with cancer, but if you are diagnosed, That’s, you know, I’m here to let you know, you can’t get through it. There is support. We need to build community. And in order to build community and to build awareness, we need to have those conversations. I almost say like, we need to have like a billboard that says, this is the reason why you need to get your, you know, you have your talk about breast health and have screenings.
[00:16:55] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:16:55] Domenica Lagunas: Because you visualize it.
[00:16:57] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:16:57] Domenica Lagunas: Within our communities.
[00:16:59] Adam Walker: Yeah, so important. And, and, and you’re doing that. You, you’re kind of a, a billboard in, in, and of yourself right now, which is great, and you’re sharing with your community. And I love that. So last question. Do you have any final advice you’d like to share with our listeners? Particularly other Latino women?
[00:17:15] Domenica Lagunas: I think what I would say to our listeners is that it’s, it’s definitely no one wants to hear the word that you have breast cancer . But I think that in, in retrospect and in, I would say that it’s important to put yourself first and it is not a selfish thing to do. So to create a relationship with your physician and with your medical providers learn how to have those self self exams.
So you can share with those that you love and how to do so share there’s resources out there. There’s communities out there. You know, at one point in time, either you’re affected directly or indirectly know that there is a community, there, there are resources just like Susan G. Komen. And there is ways for you to know that you are not alone and it’s, and you don’t need to be silent and feel alone while you’re going through this journey. Or even if it’s, you know, you have a health scare as it relates to breast health.
[00:18:16] Adam Walker: That’s right. You are not alone. There is a community of people you can get support. And I think that’s a fantastic way to end this conversation. Domenica, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for your inspiration and just for sharing your journey with us today.
[00:18:32] Domenica Lagunas: Thank you, Adam. Great to be here.
[00:18:39] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G. Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org. And for more breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G. Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJwalker.com.