As the All-Women’s card for Submission Hunter Pro approaches, we wanted to take some time to sit down and talk to some of the competitors about their personal experiences with breast cancer. Some have been affected directly, and some have had loved ones been affected by this disease.
Lorena Balli has been on several exciting cards on the SHP stage, and has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. An inner strength that undoubtedly was passed down from her mother, a breast cancer survivor
Lorena and her mother, Laura Balli, took the time to answer some questions about their experience with breast cancer, in hopes that this educates and motivates women everywhere and we can’t thank them enough for sharing.
Laura Balli, 66 years old mother of Lorena Balli (competitor)
1. Tell me a little bit about your journey. When were you diagnosed with breast cancer, and how did you find out?
My family and I were traveling on a winter vacation in 1994 when I noticed something that felt abnormal on my right breast. I remember feeling worried right away and knew that deep down inside there was something wrong. It felt hard, like a marble so, I talked to my husband and explained how I felt we needed to get back home. We cut the vacation short and as soon as we got home, I made an appointment with my family doctor. My doctor immediately sent me to get a mammogram. After going for the mammogram, I received the results through mail which stated everything looked normal, and to consider a follow up mammogram in roughly two years. Although my intuition told me I needed to get a second exam or opinion. Time went on yet I still felt worried. This is when I decided to see another doctor about five months later. After this visit, the doctor scheduled a biopsy one week later.
2. What stage were you diagnosed with?
Unfortunately, the biopsy results showed the lump to be malignant. However, at that time technology was not equipment to show the stage of cancer so I was never told that information.
3. How did you feel when you first received the news?
I felt devastated. When you hear something like this told to you by a doctor, you start to view life differently. I thought about my family and my children who at the time were 12 and 8 years old. You start to think about life very differently like for example, loving your children and family and making sure to appreciate moment with them and moments of life in general.
4. Is there a family history of breast cancer?
In my family, I was the first one diagnosed with cancer between my mother and my siblings. Years later, my niece was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 27 and several years thereafter, my sister (same nieces’ mother) was diagnosed with leukemia which unfortunately she lost her battle to it after one year.
5. Did you have a support network? If so, why is a support network so important?
My support group was a church group of people who I met with regularly to hold healing prayers. Having faith is an important factor in a journey like that. I felt like the people in the religious group were truly kind and comforting, they always had kind words to say, things I needed to hear during a difficult time. Along with the support of the religious group, I also had the support of my family and friends.
6. Tell me about your treatment process. What course of action did you and your physicians decide?
After the biopsy I decided to seek further medical treatments. This is when I went to M.D. Anderson hospital in Houston, Texas. There, they recommended a lumpectomy which they suggested to me I was a good candidate for. After the lumpectomy, I had 21 lymph nodes removed which four were positive. Doctors decide what measures to take but when even one lymph node is positive, they will recommend chemotherapy, so I had six chemotherapy treatments. After chemo came the radiation process. I went through radiation every day for three weeks.
7. Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
Yes, I believe there were some services however, I didn’t really feel the need for it.
8. Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
The first few treatments of chemotherapy, I did not notice too much of a difference in how I felt or feeling sick. Then after the second treatment is when I started to lose my hair. By the fifth and sixth treatment, I started to feel extremely sick. Right after the treatment, I would feel extremely nauseated and could not eat for a few days. I remember feeling so bad and was physically exhausted toward the end of the sessions that I really did not want to go, but listening to my then 8 year old daughter (Lorena) convince me to go because it was important for me to take the last treatment gave me the strength I needed.
9. What message would you like to provide women in general?
The importance of self-exams for sure, especially for young women. Also, the sooner you get a diagnosis you should remain positive and seek whatever assistance you need. I would encourage women not to let it go or ignore it.
10. What “words of wisdom” and/or advice would you give any woman facing Cancer or another life-threatening illness?
“There is life after cancer.” Never think that cancer is going to defeat you or dictate the direction of your life. It is important not to think that cancer is going to take over your life. You must live before you die. After beating cancer, my spirit completely changed. I started to have more fun with my family and life itself. The summer after I was done with all the treatments and starting to feel better, my family and I went on a camping trip to Garner State Park. I saw all the kids jumping from a rope into the river and it looked so fun. This would be the first time I decided in my life to try things I had never done before, so I climbed up the river bank along with all the kids and waited in line to jump from the rope into the water. Here I was a 42-year-old woman surrounded by a group of young kids having the time of my life. I must have jumped 20 more times into the water.
11. What kinds of things did you do to distract yourself when you were going through treatments (either at home or at the hospital…? Or both)
During my time of treatment, I was still working as a teacher with Weslaco ISD; so that kept me busy and also helped me keep my spirits positive because my students, the staff and the administration of the school were all very supportive of me.
12. Did you have a new outlook or perspective on life after going through this?
Most definitely. Refer to question 10 ^
13. Any additional info you would like to add about yourself, your family member, or anything about this experience?
I was lucky and blessed to have a supportive family. When I went through treatment, I always had someone offer to help watch after my kids. I had friends who would visit me every third Friday of the month (when I would have a treatment) and bring dinner to elevate the stress and just spend time with me. I also had the love of my children to keep me going.
During my experience with cancer, I would sometimes think to myself “is this my last birthday, my last Christmas, my last Easter?” But then I decided to stop dwelling on those kinds of thoughts and just let life take its course because you never know when your last day on this Earth is going to be.
Looking back on my experience, I have to stop and appreciate everything. I sometimes see or hear of other women who don’t make it through their own battle with breast cancer and I wonder why I did. I thank God every day, all the glory to God.