‘Don’t wait’: Local woman shares what she’s learned after multiple breast cancer diagnoses

ORLANDO, Fla. — Yvette Mendoza – an Apopka woman living with triple-positive metastatic breast cancer – relies on her family for her strength.


“My family has been there for me,” she said. “My boys, especially my husband.”

Yvette received her first diagnosis at the end of July 2019 and said doctors treated it as a Stage 3C, even though it could have been considered Stage 4 due to the metastasis of the lymph node. It had not spread to any major organs – yet.

“I felt a sharp pain in my right breast,” she said. “I knew something was wrong with me, and I told the doctors, ‘I need a mammogram as soon as possible.’”

Her family had a long history of breast cancer – with some being diagnosed with it at a younger age – but Yvette said they had surgery and treatments and survived.

“I had just turned 37 when I first got diagnosed,” she said. “So, you can be whatever age and still get diagnosed with this. You don’t have to be over 40.”

Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: 9 things to watch out for

In November 2020, her family celebrated that she was declared cancer-free. There was no evidence of the disease.

That came grinding to a halt a couple of months later when Yvette was on a Zoom call with her son’s teacher, who saw her have a “major” seizure, as she described.

After her son’s teacher called 911 and an ambulance rushed Yvette to the hospital, the doctors found a tumor in her brain and detected breast cancer cells.

“That was breast cancer in my brain,” she said. “Yes, you can get breast cancer everywhere. Once you had it in your breast, it could travel anywhere in your body.”

She underwent a craniotomy surgery to remove the tumor in January 2021.

“That was hard because I didn’t see my boys for several days,” Yvette said.

Read: Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How can you limit your risk?

Yvette’s concern was how she would continue living with the disease.

“The doctors told me that I would be able to stay on medication – this new, different type of medication – that can prolong my life,” she said. “So, I felt confident in that. But to remain with all those side effects for life, that was really daunting. But it was keeping me alive, so, I had no choice but to take the medication.”

After experiencing her second diagnosis and going through radiation treatment, Yvette remarried her current husband, “the love of (her) life,” and found out she was pregnant. The doctors advised against the pregnancy because she would have to stop taking the medication.

“They didn’t think it was wise to continue the pregnancy, the doctors, but I had to,” she said. “I wanted to.”

Then, the cancer came back in her brain. Only a few days after her baby was born, she had to start radiation. Now, she is on chemotherapy every three weeks and will be on it indefinitely.

Read: Orlando Hard Rock Hotel lights up pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Some days are not easy for Yvette, as she also takes anti-seizure medication, which affects her daily life on top of her breast cancer treatment.

But her husband is her rock, especially when it comes to her mental health and taking care of her and her children, which she appreciates.

“He’s my confidante most of the time,” she said. “He has to hear it. He hears it, he hears me and he understands. And he’s really good (at) understanding what I’m going through.”

In the community, Yvette was involved with Compassionate Hands and Hearts, an organization founded by former Channel 9 anchor and breast cancer survivor Vanessa Echols.

She praised the nonprofit Tulips as a good support group to get involved with other women who are going through it as well.

When it comes to helping breast cancer patients, Yvette said being available and understanding fatigue can be the best form of support. And if someone needs help around the house or caring for their children, it’s a blessing.

Watch: Q&A with AdventHealth: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As she continues to fight through the cancer, Yvette is figuring out ways to reduce stress in her life despite all the worries that race through her mind. She took advantage of the free counseling Orlando Health offers to breast cancer patients, and it has been helpful.

“You have to just kind of balance that so that you can still live your life without being tortured by those thoughts,” she said.

Her overall advice is simple, but she believes it was that thought that spurred the action of listening to her body and changing her life.

“Don’t wait until it’s reached an advanced stage,” Yvette said. “Don’t wait. If you feel something, say something. The doctors don’t know your body as well as you do. If you feel something’s out of line, then you need to tell your doctors.”

She said it’s crucial to advocate for yourself and understand that there are different types of breast cancer and newly discovered drugs to treat it. Yvette is grateful for a new medication she is taking now; even though it makes her tired, it’s given her more of a quality of life and is a “game changer,” as she puts it.

“It’s an option, and that’s what’s important, that they didn’t have this ten years ago,” she said.

At the end of the day, Yvette surrounds herself with love and hope. While she knows some days will be painful, she takes it one step at a time.

“Day by day,” she said. “That’s all you can do.”

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