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Cypress woman survives cancer with a positive attitude

October 4, 2018

In Cecilia Argueta’s arsenal to fight breast cancer, two of her biggest weapons are her proactive stance and positive attitude.

“Sometimes I feel down,” she admits. “Sometimes I get nervous. Sometimes I cry.”

But she’s quick to find something to elevate her spirits. She searches for an uplifting video on YouTube and researches the Internet for positive stories from cancer survivors.

Argueta hopes her own story will soon among those ranks and helping others. She had a mastectomy and started chemotherapy in August, and she already uses her experience as an example, urging women to get their annual mammograms.

“When I talk to friends, I tell them, ‘Take care of you,’” Argueta said. “’This is happening to me, and I don’t want you to go through this.’”

The 56-year old Hockley resident has no family history of breast cancer, no reasons why she thought she should pay any particular attention to the disease.

Still, Argueta has been vigilant - and regularly made her mammogram appointments.

“Every year was normal, so I thought everything was normal,” she said.

At her most recent appointment, however, doctors located a mass they wanted to investigate further.

Argueta returned to MD Anderson Breast Care with Memorial Hermann Cypress for a diagnostic mammogram.

General surgeon Dr. Murtaza Shakir and his team scheduled an ultrasound the same day, as well as a biopsy.

“We don’t waste time,” he said. “And it’s all in one building. The patient is guided from one space to the next.”

The goal at the center is to condense the steps and reduce the number of appointments patients have to make to ensure care is received as soon as possible.

“Certain patients who see a long route of appointments sometimes give up,” Shakir said. “Nowadays, everyone wants things done fast and quickly.”

Patients also want care that’s close to home, he added.

“The Houston population is shifting to the northwest,” he said. “There are facilities right here. You don’t have to drive to the medical center.”

After Argueta’s biopsy revealed cancerous cells, a lumpectomy was scheduled.

“About 30 to 35 years ago, the smallest cancer was treated with removal of the entire breast,” Shakir said. “These days, less is more. Breast cancer can be treated better, with smaller surgery. We can do less and achieve better results.”

In Argueta’s case, however, more cancer cells were discovered in her breast, and Shakir ended up preforming a mastectomy.

“Pathology results showed invasive breast cancer,” he said. “It was clear that we needed to have the breast removed.

Shakir’s patient recovered quickly, and he was able to implant a chemotherapy port during the mastectomy, making her ready for the therapy as soon as she healed from surgery.

“This patient had a small cancer,” Shakir said. “Because it was a high-grade tumor and she was very young, we wanted to minimize her risks.”

He explained that diligence is key. “Breast cancer is the most prominent cancer in the female population,” he said.

He recommends that women keep up with their self-breast exams monthly - and that they make their mammogram appointments to catch lumps before they are big enough to feel, like Argueta did.

“It was too small to be felt,” he said. “Cecilia’s cancer was caught very early. The importance of mammograms cannot be overstated.”

Argueta discovered her cancer before it spread to her lymph nodes, Shakir added.

Doctors will be keeping a close watch on her for the next few years. “We don’t want the cancer to come back,” Argueta said. “I’m trying to get healthy, be strong and be positive. I do my best and work with a great team of doctors.”

The concept of a one-stop-shop for breast cancer treatment is fairly new in Cypress.

Jessica Rivas, vice president of operations for Memorial Hermann Cypress, is credited with the concept. She said a group of physicians were brainstorming ways to have more comprehensive care in the neighborhood.

“There was a big need,” Rivas said. “We weren’t able to keep our patients here in the community. They were having to go to other hospitals to have their surgeries. We wanted to meet those needs.”

Team members, including surgeons and the business office, got together and determined the best approach. Memorial Hermann was able to pool all resources under one roof, from mammograms to post operation plastic surgery.

A key to seamless care was hiring employees to guide patients from one procedure to the next, Rivas added.

“When you’re dealing with breast cancer and biopsies, the last thing we want them to worry about is going from one place to the next,” she said. “We take that off their plate. They’re already worried and concerned. We don’t want them to worry about this part.”

The center completed its first surgery in May and five more since then.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for women to do self exams and get mammograms,” Rivas said. “Women are so rushed. We’re taking care of families, and we’re working. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to take care of everyone else.”

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