I don’t like to think of myself as a survivor. Instead, I like to think of myself as a fighter.
I found a lump on my left breast while I was showering. I never really thought it could be breast cancer … not me … not this young; I don’t have any history of it in my family. Besides, it didn’t hurt.
When I noticed the lump had changed, I made a doctor’s appointment. On Jan. 24, I was diagnosed [with breast cancer].
The diagnosis was probably the hardest part; you can’t help but expect the worst. Everything kind of stops and your mind gets clouded.
Being 33 years old and making the decision to have a double mastectomy was not easy. I had my ups and downs, and still do. I stay positive, appreciating the opportunity I have to heal, the opportunity to see all the good in everyone around me, and to understand how blessed I am. I focus on my daughter, and every time I feel like giving up I remember that she needs me for a very long time.
I could not have gone through this without my family and friends. My family flew in from Ecuador and Argentina, my parents moved in with me for several months, my daughter was the best nurse, and my friends stayed by my side making sure I did not feel alone at any given second.
My experience with Cleveland Clinic Florida also has been absolutely amazing. The cancer center staff was very professional and caring. When I had my heart surgery, two months after my mastectomy, my breast surgeon, Dr. Margaret Gilot, came to visit me in the ICU three times. Seeing her was very encouraging.
With an illness like this, you go through so many emotions that change you and change your heart.
My experience opened my eyes to the financial burden. Even though I have insurance, I saw the hardship on others that didn’t. It is hard enough to figure out which treatment to take; the last thing anyone needs is to worry about how [to pay for it].
My two friends and I started a foundation, Sylvia’s Angels, that focuses on raising money to cover all medical and life expenses of a breast cancer patient in the service industry. We also want to focus on the emotional aspect [of the illness]. I have a huge support system, but not everyone is so blessed. We want to be able to provide [that support].
I would tell people who have just been diagnosed [with cancer] to try to see the positive side of it. Just take it as a great experience that can open your eyes to how much you are loved and how great everyone around you truly is, and how strong you can be.
Sylvia Clark's story of survival
Sylvia Clark (Photo by Andre Rowe / September 28, 2012)