By Nikki Ross Inda - May 07, 2020
For Aileen Reyes-Garcia, being a loving mother involves empowering her four daughters to practice self-care and get their routine health check-ups. At one time, Reyes-Garcia worked as a patient navigator in the Moffitt Program for Outreach Wellness Education (M-POWER), which partners with the local community to reduce cancer disparities. The one thing she never thought she would have to tell her children is that she has cancer.
After a series of irregular pap smears in 2019, Reyes-Garcia went to her OB/GYN for a consultation.
“I mentioned I was having soreness around my left ovary,” said Reyes-Garcia. A biopsy and colposcopy came back negative, but an ultrasound revealed she had a cyst. She was advised to return in eight weeks for a follow-up ultrasound.
This time around, the cyst had grown. She was sent for another biopsy and referred to Moffitt where gynecological oncologist Dr. Mitchel Hoffman broke the bad news. Reyes-Garcia had stage four uterine cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt shock and anger. I kept asking myself, what have I done and why me?” Reyes-Garcia recalled.
From the beginning of her journey with cancer, Reyes-Garcia shared all the important details with her daughters so they would be prepared.
“My daughters have always been there for me. They’ve helped me financially, ran errands for me and took me to my doctor’s appointments,” shared Reyes-Garcia.
And it wasn’t just her daughters pitching in. Reyes-Garcia was fortunate to have family members from California, Michigan, South Carolina and Puerto Rico come to support her during the tough times, which included her treatment.
Since the cancer had spread, Reyes-Garcia wasn’t an immediate candidate for surgery. Hoffman recommended three months of chemotherapy with the potential for a hysterectomy at a later time. As she began chemotherapy in September 2019, she also began social distancing.
“I was limited in so many ways. I had to stop working as a home health aide. I wasn’t going out as often as I use too, avoiding restaurants and big crowds trying not to get sick and being cautious of what I ate,” said Reyes-Garcia.
Since she was unable to fly to South Carolina to see one of her daughters and grandchildren like she did before cancer, she had to rely on FaceTime. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months later, it was even more difficult to connect with her family. She knew it was important to stay busy and active by reading, exercising and watching funny movies.
Reyes-Garcia’s most recent scans revealed her cancer has shrunk, and now she is waiting to see if she qualifies for surgery.
On May 5, she celebrated another milestone: she turned 70. She enjoyed spending time with her daughters and grandchildren while also receiving a lot of cheery phone calls from family and friends. And her family plans to do it all again for Mother’s Day on May 10.