Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center Cancer Patient Navigator Julie Pierce remembers the first time she met patient Lizzette Munoz:
“I spoke to Ms. Munoz in April 2013. I called her to schedule a breast biopsy here in the radiology department,” Julie recalls. “That phone call would mark the first step in her fight against breast cancer. Through two surgeries and an extensive chemotherapy regimen, I never once heard Lizzette complain.”
Lizzette, who was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in her left breast, would have been justified in complaining. In addition to her condition, her son Michael was waiting for a heart transplant. And shortly after being diagnosed, Lizzette lost the job she had held in a cafeteria for 13 years.
Rebuilding their lives
Step by step, Lizzette formulated a plan with her care team, medical oncologist Dr. Geoffrey Moorer, primary care physician Dr. Rebecca Sinclair and surgeon Dr. Jeffery Sinclair. First, she had a mastectomy. Then, Michael had a heart transplant, the second in his young 18-year life.
Seven days later, Michael was a Sentara cardiac rehabilitation patient and a loyal son sitting by his mother’s side.
“He was with me for four hours every time I got chemo,” Lizzette says. “He is my caretaker.”
Next was radiation, nearly every day for six weeks.
“All along, I was thinking, ‘what am I going to do?’,” says Lizzette. “I asked Julie if Sentara could give me a job. We looked on the Sentara web site and saw the types of jobs available. I talked with a Human Resources recruiter. That’s when I decided to enroll in school for medical administrative assisting. Michael did, too.”
About a year and a half later, Mother and Son were in the final stages of earning their degrees after 10 months of classes: Lizzette and Michael only had to complete a 200-hour internship.
“I’ve learned that you can go in the darkness,” Lizzette says, “and come out. It’s important to keep a clear mind.”
Lizzette shares this advice and more with other women as a participant in the Latina cancer support group sponsored by Nueva Vida and hosted at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
“Julie helped pull the group together because of me,” says Lizzette. “She saw the need for Spanish women to get together and talk.”
Now, thanks to Lizette and Julie, women in the community have another valuable resource in their battle against cancer. They are not alone in their fight. They have the support of not only the Sentara care team but of other women, like Lizette.