Walk on 

American Cancer Society raises funds and awareness with its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.

click to enlarge Breast cancer survivor Christina King-Rodriguez discovered that her disease did not discriminate among patients. - PROVIDED
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  • Breast cancer survivor Christina King-Rodriguez discovered that her disease did not discriminate among patients.

On Oct. 27, American Cancer Society takes another step forward with its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Oklahoma City. Founded over 100 years ago, the society has sought to address misconceptions while shining light on research and development geared toward ending the disease. The organization’s work has made numerous advancements, including contributions that have equated to 2 million fewer cancer-related deaths between 1991 and 2014. 

Since 2016, the society has spotlighted local breast cancer survivors from different backgrounds known collectively as the Portraits of Hope. By publicizing their experiences, ACS curates tales of strength and courage in the face of tragic diagnoses.  

At age 35, Christina King-Rodriguez received her breast cancer diagnosis. Though she was taken aback by her disease given her age, her case was exponentially rare given she was seven weeks pregnant. 

“I didn’t believe at 35 this could happen to me,” King-Rodriguez said. “When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know what to say or do. I just thought it was an older woman’s disease. When I began going through treatment, I met many women my age and quickly realized this disease does not discriminate, especially with regard to age. It can happen to anybody.” 

In December 2017, National Cancer Institute found approximately one in 3,000 pregnant women primarily between ages 32 and 38 might develop breast cancer. As King-Rodriguez discovered, even fewer women receive a confirmation of their disease as early as their first trimester. 

A cancer diagnosis is never welcome news, and learning that not only her life but also that of her daughter was at risk scared King-Rodriguez, but she was fueled by a necessary resolve. 

“I had no choice,” King-Rodriguez said. “Survival was the outcome I was going to accept. I was going to be a mom, and I wanted to see my child born, grow up and become an adult.”

For King-Rodriguez, that meant trusting the advice of her oncologist and living her life as regularly as possible. In her eyes, to allow the disease to derail her daily regimen would be a concession of defeat.  

“I had bills to pay,” King-Rodriguez said a few minutes before ferrying her 4-year-old daughter to dance class. “Each person’s approach to survival is different, especially as it relates to breast cancer. Some people are really into support groups, which is fine, but I kind of just did my own thing. I still went to work like everyone else and tried to live as normally as possible. I was not going to let this disease define me.”

King-Rodriguez felt fortunate in her ability to trust her physicians advice. For many women, a medical professional one can confide in is not always readily available. However, King-Rodriguez found independent research can also yield pitfalls. Erring on the side of caution ultimately proved to be the greatest boon for her treatment. 

Cancer treatment does not occur in a medical vacuum. Often, battling cancer is a coordinated effort, even more so for King-Rodriguez given her pregnancy. Additionally, her treatment was reconfigured to accommodate her condition.King-Rodriguez found that often, oncologists would first attempt to shrink tumors via chemotherapy before committing to surgery. Given King-Rodriguez’s situation, however, radiation might have resulted in unintended harm to her unborn child, thus her plan of action was altered accordingly as she underwent an operation to mitigate her tumors first. 

This approach was fortunately successful for King-Rodriguez, as she was able to give birth to a healthy child. Though her ordeal as well as that of many other survivors is objectively difficult, she still finds it a bit peculiar when she’s lauded as an empowering example.

“I might be modest, but I honestly don’t feel like I’ve made a huge impact,” she said. “But I’ve had people in my office approach me, telling me how much of an inspiration I am and sharing tales their loved ones who are going through something similar. Again, I was just doing what I had to do for the sake of my daughter, but those little interactions do make me feel like I’ve made more of an impact than I thought I did.”

Activism comes in many forms, many of which are subtle. American Cancer Society’s Portraits of Hope operates in such a fashion by providing insight into one’s journey through cancer. Survival is a beacon of resolve to many. 

“I can see that just by telling our stories, we give people hope,” King-Rodriguez said. “For the past few years, the American Cancer Society has involved woman from incredibly different backgrounds. For instance, my group included an African-American survivor, a woman who was a bit older and another who was in her 40s. The four of us together make a big impact and remind people that this disease will not discriminate. While seeing us together reminds people breast cancer knows no bounds, it also reminds people if all us could overcome this, maybe they can overcome it too.” 

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