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Patient advocates for others with stage four breast cancer

Publication: Midland Reporter-Telegram, Midland, TX

When she thinks about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cynthia Acosta touches a ribbon on her chest. Her pink ribbon is intertwined with teal and lime green, symbols of Acosta’s fight against metastatic, or stage four, breast cancer.

“We support pink, but in a sense we’re different,” Acosta said. “We’re not survivors — we’re going to be in treatment for the rest of our lives. When one treatment stops working, we try another.” Acosta, 57, was diagnosed in March 2015. Though she had annual mammograms since age 40, she fell into a small percentage of patients who are diagnosed initially with breast cancer that has traveled to other parts of the body.

“I was in shock,” Acosta said. “For a [moment], I felt like I was going to be tumbling down hill. In all likelihood, I should be in a bed somewhere. I’m thankful God gives me faith to keep carrying on.”

A positive attitude has enabled Acosta to continue being active. Since her diagnosis, she has served as a volunteer at Gifts of Hope and St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

Donna Luna-Hernandez, a friend, said Acosta has a giving spirit despite struggling with her disease.

“She always feels there’s someone less fortunate,” Luna-Hernandez said. “Being a single mom — I was one for years — I know about wanting to take care of everybody besides yourself.”

But volunteering isn’t easy for Acosta. Cancer started in her left breast and spread to her bones, including her skull, chest, ribs, spine, femur, and pelvis.

“I’m in severe pain every day, but I don’t show it,” Acosta said. “I’m beating statistics right now because the treatment is working. It hasn’t progressed. I have a lot of fatigue, pain. I don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve tried the alternatives like massages and essential oils.”

She now undergoes a combination of three treatments at Texas Oncology – Midland Allison Cancer Center.

“People say I look so good,” Acosta said. “They don’t understand, and they look at me like I’m a different stage when people lose hair. I look good but inside, I’m riddled with this beast.”

Since she was diagnosed, Acosta has sought ways to advocate for people with stage four cancer. She has reached out to local breast cancer groups to encourage them to recognize metastatic patients, instead of focusing only on awareness and survivorship.

“Midland has been different than other places,” Acosta said. “They’ve embraced it, and I’ve accepted that they incorporate metavivors. In other places, organizations don’t do that.”

Acosta also finds information about treatment to share with oncologists and the local support group Helping Hands Metastatic Cancer.

“She does a lot of research to find resources available to metastatic cancer patients,” said Fatima Castillo, one of the Helping Hands leaders. “She tells everybody in the group about them. As leaders of the group, we can tell people not in the group as well.”

Castillo, who is also executive director of Gifts of Hope, said Acosta has maintained a positive outlook despite her metastatic cancer diagnosis.

“She’s focused on enjoying her life,” Castillo said. “A lot of people when they hear that, they think it’s a death sentence — gloom and doom. They stay in more. They don’t want to enjoy life.”

Acosta hasn’t stopped traveling and still buys clothes and items for her apartment. She hopes she will be able to return to Walt Disney World with her family.

“She has always been a person who likes to live life to the fullest,” said her daughter, Nicole Primera. “She always likes to travel. She’s continuing to experience things with her grandchildren. Those memories will live forever.”

Since Acosta’s diagnosis, her family spends time together once a week to play cards or watch movies. She fears how her loved ones will respond if her condition gets worse.

“Statistically, people live three years from the diagnosis,” Acosta said. “It’s been one and a half years, and I’m OK. I worry about how the end will come, how other people will react.”

Acosta said she will continue advocating for people with metastatic breast cancer and encourages other patients to research the disease.

“My purpose is to be able to help others, not to be in a bed without any [hope],” Acosta said. “I want to be the person God wants me to be. I don’t think he intended for me to lay in a bed.”

Click here to view the full story from the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

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