At one of her annual “girl” appointments, teacher Tanya DelValle’s doctor found a lump in one of her breasts. She said there was nothing to worry about, that it was probably just a cyst, and would aspirate out the fluid from the cyst if the lump bothered DelValle. A month later, the lump did indeed start to bother her, and even became a bigger size. An appointment two months later was finally scheduled for the fluid to be taken out, but there was no fluid. Instead, cells were found in the lump. Four days later, DelValle’s doctor personally called her and told her she needed to go to a surgeon immediately, as well as get a mammogram and an ultrasound.
The entire month of October is Cancer Awareness Month and specifically Breast Cancer Awareness month. According to Breastcancer.org, about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, 1997, DelValle had her ultrasound and mammogram, which was inconclusive. But the ultrasound revealed an irregularly shaped tumor. Two days later, she found out for sure what exactly the lump was.
“I went in for a biopsy at seven o’clock in the morning, and by eight-thirty, I knew that I had cancer,” DelValle said.
This November, DelValle will be celebrating her 18th year as a survivor.
“She’s a very strong woman. I’m just very impressed with her, with everything that she does. I’m very proud to be a part of that, to help her,” Tanya’s husband, Rudy DelValle said.
When diagnosed, Tanya was the varsity swim coach at Edison High School. She would still go to work, and every Thursday, she’d go for her chemotherapy session after school, and would take off Friday’s, and have the weekend to rest.
“As I had more and more chemo, I found that Friday, I felt okay,” Tanya said. “It was Monday that I felt like I had been hit by a bus. So, then I switched. I would go to work on Friday, and then I would take off Monday, because I would literally feel like I had been run over by a freight train. It was the worst feeling in the world.”
During her chemo sessions, Tanya’s mother would accompany her, and they’d talk and laugh, and Tanya would listen to Elvis. However, once the session was over, her mother would rush her home.
“We had exactly one hour to get me home after chemo, get me showered, and on the couch, because almost to the minute in one hour, I would get an excruciating migraine,” Tanya said. “I could feel the atoms moving in the air. My head would just kill me.”
December 8 of 1997, Tanya went in for her big surgery (a radical lumpectomy – a breast-conserving surgery), in which 20 lymph nodes were removed, and was bandaged all over her left side, and had a port inserted in the upper left of her chest. In January of 1998, she began chemotherapy.
DelValle with a former Edison student in 1998.
Photo courtesy of Tanya DelValle.
“I’m left handed, so that side of my body was really worked on, and had a lot of physical therapy, because they had taken so many lymph nodes,” Tanya said.
During the month of October, Tanya participates from eight to ten Breast Cancer awareness related events, with her husband as a huge supporter.
“Marriage is a team effort, and if you don’t support one another in the things that you do, your marriage won’t survive. I did 26 years in the military, and Tanya was with me for the last almost ten years of it, and was very supportive of me. And having God in our marriage is the most important, and that’s why we’ve been so successful,” Rudy said. “God made her a survivor to help people.”
Tanya and her husband participate in interviews/speaking engagements, races for Breast Cancer awareness, fashion shows, dinner events, and events from Breast Friends Forever (B.F.F.) – a support group for young women with breast cancer. She is part of the executive board, which came to be by coming out in a book called Nuestras Historias by Sandra SanMiguel. The book had just recently turned 10 years (on Oct. 7), and in it, Tanya’s story comes out, as well as 16 other survivors, and 10 other deceased who were first a part of the the book back in 2004. (Read book here.)
“We’re not a support group in the sense that we sit around cry about it [our cancer]. We literally go out into the community, we speak at different engagements,” Tanya said. “I do a lot of interviews and speaking engagements to women who are really young, to let them know that you’re never too young to get breast cancer. But, that fact that I’m an 18 year survivor now, is a really large reason why I go out there, because someone who has cancer can see that there is another side; you don’t have to die.”
Tanya DelValle poses for a picture with a motorcycle in 2013, at the San Antonio Race For The Cure.
Photo courtesy of Tanya DelValle.
In April, Tanya always partakes in a race, Race For The Cure, in memory of her two friends she lost to breast cancer, whom she met through chemotherapy and B.F.F.
“I have lost way too many friends to breast cancer,” Tanya said. “There were these two ladies I used to hang out with when I did have cancer, Marta and Susan. They called us the Three Musketeers, and I’m the only Musketeer left. I’ve been to both their funerals. I was with Marta when she died, but Susan died in Utah. I’ll never forget – we went to this one restaurant in the Quarry for lunch. We were wearing hats (none of us wore wigs, we wore hats and scarves), and it was funny because I liked Marta’s hat, Susan liked my hat, so we switched hats in the restaurant. And so we’re balder than bald, and people were just staring at us! And we were laughing because of the looks that people gave us were so pricelessly funny.”
Tanya and her friends then had a special, funny inside joke to share with each from then on.
“I think, as strange as this may sound, I really think that it was almost a blessing that I had cancer because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met the people I met, I wouldn’t be able to help people now the way I do. And I don’t think I’d have the same outlook on life that I now have,” Tanya said. “So, it was a blessing. I wouldn’t want it again, but it’s a blessing.”
How To Prevent Breast Cancer (mayoclinic.org)
Limit alcohol – Should you choose to drink, whether liquor or wine, limit yourself to one drink a day. Or none at all.
Don’t smoke – Not smoking at all is best, especially for premenopausal women.
Control your weight – There will be an increase of a risk for breast cancer with being overweight or obese.
Be physically active – the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus strength training at least twice a week.
Breast feed – the longer you breast-feed, the greater the protective effect.
Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy – you may be able to manage your symptoms with nonhormonal therapies, such as physical activity. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, use the lowest dose that works for you.
Avoid exposure to radiation and environmental pollution – Medical-imaging methods, such as computerized tomography, use high doses of radiation, which have been linked with breast cancer risk. Reduce your exposure by having such tests only when absolutely necessary.