At eight months pregnant, all while mothering a two-year-old, Carolina Diaz discovered a lump on her breast. The Columbian-Canadian knew immediately that there was something deeply wrong. While her gynecologist told her not to worry, that it just had to do with her breast milk, Carolina knew in her heart that this was not the case, “I kind of knew it was something bad”. The lump grew after her baby was born, and Carolina was insistent that something was not right. On May 5, 2021, she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
“I couldn’t believe that was happening to me,” Carolina says.
Three weeks after her diagnosis, and after giving birth to her now one-year-old, Carolina went into surgery for her cancer and began an intense treatment that would take a full year to complete. In addition to the raging hormones and usual parental stress she was experiencing after giving birth to her daughter, Mila, Carolina was forced to face a devastating diagnosis at a time in her life that was meant to be happy and full of life.
Carolina’s stress at this diagnosis was largely centered around her children, “I cannot die because this baby needs me to live”. To add on to the stress, Carolina’s family was still in Columbia. She called her cousin, who is a doctor, to break the news. Her cousin’s words shifted Carolina’s mindset in a way that would change her journey for the better going forward: “You have to put into your mind that you’re not going to die of this”.
From that day forward Carolina practiced meditation and shifted her mindset to a more positive one and focused on her wellbeing. Her mother flew all the way out from Columbia to care for her new born baby as her husband worked and she focused on her own wellness.
For Carolina, good family support was the “key” to not only surviving her cancer journey, but thriving throughout it.
Despite this dark chapter, things began looking up for Carolina and her family. “After the diagnosis, blessings started coming,” says Carolina, who shifted her focus to strengthening important relationships, bettering her mindset, and pursuing adventures that she has always wanted to go on.
Stepping into the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Carolina was met with positivity and empathy from all who work and volunteer there, “I felt like I wasn’t alone”.
She also felt the gaze of other patients at the centre, and heard remarks about how young she was, and how terrible it is for this to happen to someone so young. She met all of this by going to the store and buying a variety of colorful scarves with which to wrap her newly bald head (which her daughter, Luciana, helped her shave).
With her head held high, Carolina got dressed up to receive treatment, “if people are looking it’s because I’m beautiful,” she says.
Throughout her treatment Carolina recalls beautiful memories shared with her family. She recalls a wig made out of her own hair, which she was originally intending to donate herself, as well as her cousin’s and her sister’s hair, gifted to her.
She also recalls shaving her head with little Luciana, and celebrating baby milestones with baby Mila; and fondly, a beautiful Christmas basket gifted by some donors that made her cry, and so much more.
Her children provided extra light and love during what would otherwise be a very dark time. The eldest, Luciana, described as the “chaotic” child of the family, always brought a smile to Carolina’s face throughout her treatment with her antics and sense of humor. Mila, short for Milagro, translates from Spanish to “miracle”, and Mila was just that for Carolina.
“She is my miracle, she came into this world to help me through hard times”.
Now, Carolina is recovering from some of the after effects of her treatment, and focusing on spending even more time with her children. She is excited for the new Calgary Cancer Centre, and given her positive experiences at the Tom Baker she can only imagine what awaits at the Calgary Cancer Centre when it opens.
Overall, Carolina feels fortunate to have gone on this life journey in Alberta, as she recognizes the generosity of Albertan donors and all of the resources that were available to her through such generosity.
“I feel really lucky that this happened to me in Alberta,” says Carolina.
Despite the hardships that arose from her diagnosis, Carolina has pulled some important life lessons from this experience. In addition to learning to let go, she has learned the importance of a positive mindset, and of also recognizing the significance of one’s experience in the grander scheme of things.
She urges those going through their own cancer journeys to recognize that they are not alone, “many people go on this journey… you have to find something to hold on to”. Carolina is closer to her family than ever before, and now donates the Alberta Cancer Foundation every month as a way to give back. She is looking forward to having more time on her hands so she can volunteer as well.
Now, Carolina is up to any challenge, and knows she can face anything with her positive mindset and the help of her family.
“You cannot let cancer define you”.
Originally posted on the OWN.CANCER blog.