Lehman Student Wins Fight against Cancer

By Kimberllee Mendez

Reyes when she started growing back her hair. Photo courtesy of Elvia Reyes.

“You feel like the world is coming to an end,” recalled Lehman psychology major Elvia Reyes, of the day a doctor told her she had breast cancer. On average in the U.S., according to breastcancer.org, 12 percent of women, or 1 in 8, will develop invasive breast cancer. Reyes, 31, a financial aid advisor for Christine Valmy International School, was part of that 12 percent.

“Around October of 2016, I first noticed the lump in my breast,” said Reyes. “I was concerned and decided to call the doctor in December, but it wasn’t until February that I got an appointment.” To receive a diagnosis, a patient has to undergo a variety of examinations to create a pathology report. This report helps doctors determine a diagnosis, what stage the cancer is in, and whether a recovery process can begin. 

Elvia Reyes with her son when she started chemotherapy. Photo courtesy of Elvia Reyes.

“In March of 2017, I was meant only to have the biopsy report, but the doctors wanted to do more tests after learning my mother had breast cancer, too,” Reyes said, “but when I was tested for a gene where it could transmit from my mom, I was negative.” Her doctor told her to expect her tests results after one week, but she received them within a few days. 

“My cancer had already progressed to stage 2,” said Reyes. Tumors are generally categorized based on five stages of progression, from stage 0, a fixed tumor that will not spread throughout the whole body and can be easily removed, to stage 4, which means that the cancer has progressed and spread to other parts of the body.

Although anybody can get cancer, it is most common in women over age 50, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation. The website also states that in the U.S., fewer than 5 percent of women diagnosed with cancer are under 40, with the highest rate seen in women over 70. Reyes, however, was only 30 when she was diagnosed. “I was so young when my cancer developed, the doctors were surprised,” she said. 

When the doctors found out her tumor was stage 2, she immediately started treatment, which consisted of surgeries and two different types of chemotherapy. Side effects from chemo can include fatigue, early menopause, weight gain, and even heart problems -- according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation -- and can last even after the treatment is concluded. 

“When I was going through chemotherapy, I  knew I was going to lose my hair in the process, so I shaved my whole head,” said Reyes about starting treatment. She explained she was never discouraged through treatment, and always kept a positive mind. 

In May of 2018, after a year of chemo, a nurse told Reyes, “You are cured. No more treatment.” According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for stage 2 breast cancer is 93 percent. 

“When I went to my last treatment, I was relieved,” Reyes said, “but I still feel tired even now, with everything over and done.” She remains grateful for her family’s support, and the constant presence of her son and husband. “I was very fortunate to have my family by my side,” she said, “and they were my motivation.”