Okla. woman raises awareness about breast cancer

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — When Elian Hurtado found out she had breast cancer, she first thought of her children.

She sat in the doctor's parking lot, called a friend of hers and asked if she knew an attorney.

"I thought, 'I have to make an appointment because I need to do a will for my kids,' " she recalled.

But Hurtado wasn't resigned to the worst-case scenario. Instead, she educated herself and, above all, stayed positive.

"Breast cancer isn't a death sentence," said the 30-something mother of three, who was diagnosed in November 2008.

Now, Hurtado is cancer-free and a survivor, who supports the annual Komen Tulsa Race for the Cure.

She was too sick to attend the event in 2009, but she did in 2010, walking with her family and a couple of friends.

"That day, I turned the switch from breast cancer patient to a survivor because everyone who was there survived," said Hurtado, who "gets chills" when she thinks about the overwhelmingly positive experience she had at the last Komen Race for the Cure.

Hurtado, a mortgage banker with Arvest, moved from her native Venezuela to the United States in 1996. Her husband is also from Venezuela, and they have three kids, ages 14, 10 and 3.

Once she stopped breast-feeding her youngest in fall 2008, she noticed a lump in her right breast. The first doctor she saw said it might be an issue with duct cells. But her obstetrician wanted a mammogram. That was on a Monday; she found out that Friday the lump was a 5-centimeter tumor.

She started researching breast cancer survival rates and options. Her doctors recommended a bilateral mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy for four months, then radiation. They also suggested a hysterectomy.

Hurtado took the advice, and she's lived nearly three years without a recurrence.

"I was very lucky I have good insurance that covers everything," she said. But not everyone is so fortunate.

Like the woman she sat next to once during chemotherapy. Hurtado's insurance covered nausea drugs, but the woman next to her couldn't afford them.

Hispanic Americans are the most likely to be uninsured, with 38.9 percent going without coverage in 2010, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey.

It's a worrisome statistic, considering Hispanic women in the United States are about 20 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women who are diagnosed at a similar age and stage, stated the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts and Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2009-2011." Differences in access to care and treatment likely contribute to the disparity.

A lower use of mammography screening and longer intervals between mammograms may also be reasons why breast cancer is often being detected at a more advanced stage in Hispanics, the same publication states.

When English-speaking Americans go to doctors, they might hear medical terminology they don't understand, she said - stuff that might be intimidating, frightening.

So imagine how it feels to be an immigrant who barely knows the language, if at all, said Hurtado, who has offered to be an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients through the Breast Cancer Assistance Program. BCAP's mission is to financially assist breast cancer patients in the greater Tulsa area.

"You need people around you," she said. "It's hard to go through treatment by yourself."

But so many immigrants often come here alone and lack support.

Hurtado said one of her dreams is to create a nonprofit group to help this minority population get access to the same treatment others have.

In the meantime, she's forming her "Latinas in Pink" team for race day. So far, she has 20 signed up; her goal is 50.

"The key to fight this sickness is a positive attitude," she said. "If you say, 'I can do it, I can beat cancer, I can survive,' ... it will change the way you see breast cancer."


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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