For about a year prior to attending the CareNow free clinic, Felicia Castro was walking around with the weight of having discovered a lump in her breast. Without health insurance, she was unable to afford a mammogram. As time went on, she noticed the lump was growing and changing. Thanks to the free clinic, she was able to undergo a full course of testing. Here is her story.
Who walks around smiling after they’ve discovered a lump in their breast? I did – for over a year after turning 40. The feeling was uncanny, and then the helplessness set in. Is this what I had to look forward to with aging? What was I to do? I had lost my insurance coverage when my company closed out our division. Otherwise, I would’ve gone in for a checkup immediately. But, to be honest, I couldn’t afford to spend anything extra on speculation, so I waited to see if any change came about.
That’s when I started to gain weight; I wasn’t just bloated, my skin texture changed and my hair was thinning. Were these symptoms or was I stressing out over nothing? I hadn’t gone to the doctor in over a year, and asked myself, “Would this be my nemesis – breast cancer?”
Talk about emotional. I found I was becoming enraged, as well. For the past five years, when I had insurance, they had been telling me that I was too young, I was perfectly healthy, and there was no need for a mammogram. Although younger than most, I had not put it out of my mind that I had surpassed one of my grandmothers, who had passed at 35 from breast cancer. Of course, that made my risk higher than most. Even with this family history, I felt it wasn’t taken into serious consideration, because I wasn’t older. But I put my trust in those choosing my treatments, back then.
Had I spoken up sooner, would I be in a better frame of mind? I was left speculating all the while, doing self-exams I had learned and heard were important, regardless of what other doctors had been telling me. By watching Dr. Oz on Oprah for years, I recalled him saying something like, “Pay extra close attention, write down your questions, and be your own best advocate when it comes to your health.” I just never thought that I would be using this advice on myself anytime in the near future.
Just to ensure nothing was changing in the mass’ shape and size, I kept a journal – another helpful tip – to share someday when I would be able to see a specialist. As I read it now, I see I had written that I was becoming depressed and couldn’t sleep; the psychological effects were getting to me. Fear was in the driver’s seat. I felt like a great car, but the warranty had run out. That’s when I asked myself, “Did I manage my own upkeep well enough in the past?”
I felt like I had to keep smiling or someone would notice my blank stares. I was scared and worried about how this would affect or put a burden on those I love. I didn’t want to jump the gun and start to think negatively.
I kept quiet and very still, which was unusual for me. I went inside and hibernated until I realized I had to do my homework; I had to reboot. I spent a lot of time in the studio listening and writing songs in my spare time. I donated my abilities to various schools, and I volunteered with the Red Cross in the meantime. I would be getting the necessary facts and picking the nurses’ brains at the same time. I started to make every moment count, like I was living on borrowed time. I started biking and walking daily, further each time with family and friends each weekend. In my mind, it was a way of holding onto my health.
In between job hunting and looking for answers, that’s when I got angry. I felt like my insecurities were taking over. “I felt something in my breast, which could be nothing, but I don’t know for sure.” You think it’s going to be easy, to share this with your family and friends. I decided not to discuss it with my soon-to-be husband. I knew he would think it was probably futile to worry until I had the facts. I kept it in, but the fear didn’t subside. I was stagnant as I looked at life happening all around me.
Above all, I had just turned the big 41. A year had passed and, still, neither full-time work nor benefits had come my way. I had postponed starting a family, and to top it off, I was living on my investments and savings, which would eventually come to an end. I was supposed to spend it on getting married to my guy and our future. Besides, he was going through his own recovery from a shoulder surgery and as I was caring for him. It helped to put my worries on the back burner; his home therapy became my own, as well.
All the while, I read up on the disease and checked Facebook posts from all of my friends that had worked closely with different patients in the medical field, but I heard nothing about oncology. That is when I decided to ask a close friend about her own encounter with the ugly C word, as it came closer to October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We had worked, walked and marketed, in support of cancer survivors, but I’m sure neither of us ever envisioned falling prey to it. Now knowing the statistics personally, my positivity was back up. By her catching it early with self-detection, she was able to share her own personal survivor story with me. I felt more confident to reach out, and I asked another old friend, a female pastor, to pray for me. If she could keep us in her faith, hopefully, I would find some empowerment. She was under the impression that I was reaching out because I was grieving something. I simply replied, “God give me strength. Through these words, hear my prayers!”
We had also just suffered a recent loss – one of my female cousins (I called her cousin, but she had married in) lost her two-year battle with cancer. It hit too close to home. I then confided in my cousin; from a male perspective (his wife had just cared for her sister before she passed), he would know exactly how to handle the subject I had to broach with my guy. He suggested that I find a way to get a clear understanding of the disease and to research more of our family’s history. Before I let this go on any longer, I needed to forewarn my mate about my insurance concerns. Maybe I could get on his insurance, put the wedding on hold, or depending on how he’d react, elope as soon as possible. I didn’t want this scare hindering my personal growth anymore.
That’s when I reached out to my neighbor, a dear friend who has been in the business of helping others as a social worker for 26 years. I had never imagined being in a place where I would need her in this way. She didn’t hesitate; she researched for me and found out a lot, although, most options I didn’t qualify for. But that didn’t stop us from searching.
Then, it happened. Fate stepped in. She sent me a flyer about a free health clinic by CareNow, which would be coming up in Los Angeles and I’d just have to show up. We camped out, stood in lines, and graciously received our wristbands. Hallelujah! I was going to get some resolve, good or bad.
Feelings of excitement and nervousness were present the day I returned for care at the free clinic, as I was unaware of what was to come. I watched all those there, just like me. It was hard to keep my tears back, so I smiled through it because it was my time to receive treatment. And then, who walks up other than my favorite Dr. Mehmet Oz, with his helpful entourage. My hope went through the roof, tears fell and then my confidence soared as he walked me down, hand-in-hand, to the women’s portion of the clinic to finally get my long-awaited mammogram.
Dr. Oz stayed with me during my screenings and reviewed with the PA, Lisa – she too was an angel –where my tests would be sent, and they even strategized as to what would transpire next. Then, they set up an appointment to get me further testing. The team that handled my care made my experience an unexpected pleasure. Especially, Don Mancini and his daughter Lisa, along with their team leaders and doctors; they have changed my life forever. It truly assured my now-husband that I was in good hands. When it came to the follow-up care, I would receive it at the Santa Monica Women’s Clinic with Dr. Resnick and The Dr. Oz Show’s support. I would recommend a visit to a free clinic with CareNow any day or again, if need be for myself or my family and friends.
The wait until the diagnosis was short, but it was nerve-racking all the while. We could cut the tension with a knife at my house, because I hadn’t mentioned a word to my significant other or our families. Thanks to all those involved, I must say it was a class act, all the way. Being asked to be part of The Dr. Oz Show was amazing! It was a true blessing, especially to be able to share my frightful scare with the world, in hopes that it could help someone get in sooner to receive treatment.
I know some others have waited much longer, even with insurance, to have a peace of mind as to what’s next. I am grateful to have found out my findings were not malignant, as Dr. Oz had suspected in his personal screening of me. He found that my breasts were denser than most and that it was possible that some of my ducts were consistent with cysts. I am blessed to say that I am CANCER-FREE.