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CAPE CORAL | Breast cancer survivor shares diagnosis and resiliency journey

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast cancer survivor
Posted at 4:34 PM, Oct 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-05 19:07:03-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and while it's intended to raise awareness of the disease, some survivors say it can be a tough month for them.

In July 2018, Karin Del Maestro heard the words "you have breast cancer." She says one fleeting thought came to mind.

"Am I going to die?" she asked herself.

The cancer came up during an annual mammogram. She went through a double mastectomy and later found out she has the gene that carries breast cancer.

"Breast cancer is a club that I never wanted to be part of," she said.

Now, she is in remission and calls herself a "thriver," rather than a survivor.  

"I made a decision. No, I’m not going to die," Del Maestro said.

The choice led her to change her mindset, along with her career path. She has been a health and wellness coach for 20 years, but now focuses on helping men and women with breast cancer.

"I made a vow that I never wanted any woman to feel alone and isolated the way that I did," she said.

It's a feeling that could come in October as we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which Del Maestro says can be a trigger.

"Some find it very, very difficult — myself included," she said. "It’s not the easiest month for me."

She says she's grateful for the acknowledgment and education from places like Lee Health. The hospital has breast cancer nurse navigators, like Liz Bachoo-Garib.

Bachoo-Garib says one in every eight women will be diagnosed, though early detection could lead to a 98% survival rate.

"I come in at their new diagnosis for a woman or a man that is newly diagnosed with breast cancer," said Bachoo-Garib.

She helps with appointments, resources, explaining the diagnosis and mental health support.

"It’s very confusing for patients," Bachoo-Garib said. "It’s a lot for them to deal with."

Bachoo-Garib says prevention starts with healthy lifestyle choices. She suggests a healthy diet, reducing stress and limiting alcohol. Also, do self-exams and start screenings at 40-years-old.

"Definitely know your personal risk for breast cancer, know your family history, speak with your primary care provider," she said.

Many hospitals also have financial assistance so you can get a mammogram.

"First, it’s embarrassing to — I mean, you need a mammogram or something you can’t afford so there definitely is that stigma attached to it, not being able to afford healthcare," Bachoo-Garib said.

It's a screening that Del Maestro says saved her life.

"Breast cancer came, it borrowed my body for a while and now it’s gone," she said.

Though gone, she says it's part of her body and her journey to helping thrivers.

"You can also be grateful and blessed to be here. To be on the other side of your journey," she said. "I choose to thrive in my life and not stay in survival mode."

Del Maestro offers free virtual workshops for people struggling with the diagnosis or after treatment. You can find more information here.