‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Luisa Najera

January 22, 2013 | by

One in a series of stories asking former patients to reflect upon their experience ...

Not long after the birth of her second child in 2008, Luisa Najera felt a lump in her breast.

Patient Luisa Najera with her husband and two children. (Photo courtesy of Luisa Najera)

Former breast cancer patient Luisa Najera, shown with her husband and two children, urges patients to advocate for themselves. It's crucial. (Photo courtesy of Luisa Najera)

Her doctor initially dismissed it as a water cyst and told her to come back in six months.  Najera returned, only to receive the same diagnosis.  When the lump grew larger and painful, Najera came to City of Hope.

Her family already had sustained devastating loss.  Her father died of prostate cancer when he was 59, and her sister died of breast cancer at City of Hope when she was only 38.  “She was young and she had a young son.  And I said that I don’t want to be my sister,” Najera tearfully told KCBS reporter Lisa Sigell during a 2011 interview. Najera was diagnosed with third-stage locally advanced breast cancer and began aggressive therapy overseen by George Somlo, M.D., of the Breast Cancer Program. Given her family history, she also sought genetic counseling and was found to have the BRCA gene, a mutation increasing the odds of developing ovarian, breast and other cancers. She underwent chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

Najera believes patients should advocate for themselves, and ask plenty of questions about their treatment  – or lack thereof.  “In retrospect,” she told Sigell, “I wish I would have. The first time it was diagnosed as a water cyst, I believed them. The second time I should have at that point said, ‘I need a second opinion’ and maybe my diagnosis would have been different.”

Today, 45-year-old Najera is in remission. She is married to David Argudo, a La Puente city councilman, and they have two children, 7-year-old second-grader Ciara and 4-year-old preschooler Cameron. In addition to working in Rose Hills Memorial Park’s Human Resources Department, Najera continues to run her busy household, and coordinate her kids’ art classes and hip hop dance lessons.

Najera credits her family and her deep faith for inspiring her to keep fighting. “I don’t take my health or family for granted,” she said. “I cherish each day and feel very lucky to have beaten cancer.”

We asked Najera to look back at the time of her diagnosis and to ask herself what she knows now that she wishes she'd known then. What wisdom, soothing words, practical tips or just old-fashioned advice would she give her newly diagnosed self?

1)    ALWAYS take a companion with you to all appointments. You are already in disbelief that you may not hear what the doctor(s) is/are telling you or you may forget to mention something and your spouse, family member or friend may remember.

2)    Keep a journal. Write what you are feeling mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually each day. Write the names of those people who have come to help you, phone you, send you things, etc., so when you recover you can give back to them.

3)    Exercise. It will help with weight gain from the chemo medicine and other side effects.

4)    Rest and EAT. Both will help you fight!

5)    Be thankful and grateful to those people around you. There is nothing more important at this time than support and  encouragement.