‘The Least I Can Do’
OneWorld nurse’s personal battle against breast cancer
Ivon Aguilar-Silva, BSN, RN, OneWorld Covid-19 Case Manager and Nurse Lead, looked down at the card in her hands and the reality of the words, ‘breast cancer specialist’ sunk in for the first time. For nearly eight months, she had been experiencing symptoms, taking medications and having tests done, but the final diagnosis remained hidden until May 2, 2022.
At 31 years old, Ivon received a diagnosis of Stage 4 Invasive Ducal Carcinoma that has spread to her liver, lung, T9 spine and surrounding lymph nodes.
Despite her young age, Ivon is no stranger to cancer. Her father passed away from anaplastic thyroid cancer in 2019, and she has lost an aunt from breast cancer.
“The good thing about my cancer is that they are able to treat everything as one right now,” said Ivon. “I don’t have separate treatments for each location I have cancer, so I’m being treated as a whole.”
Ana Hernandez, OneWorld Operations Trainer and Ivon’s aunt, said while Ivon’s diagnosis is very difficult, Ivon has remained positive and is using her experience to advocate for others.
“I worked with many cancer patients during my time as a Breast Health Case Manager,” said Ana. “It’s also so hard to see a loved one who has lost someone to cancer have to go through it, but I’m so proud of Ivon for how she is handling her diagnosis.”
Ivon first noticed a lump in her breast in August 2021, around six months after giving birth to her son. Because she was breastfeeding, she dismissed it. By February 2022, the mass had grown so she sought out her OBGYN. She was prescribed medication to treat what she was told was a clogged duct.
A few days later, she went to the Emergency Room because she felt sick and her breast was discolored, enlarged and rock hard. She was prescribed different medications to treat mastitis, the suggested diagnosis.
“I told them about my strong family history of cancer, but my blood work and ultrasound came back normal,” said Ivon. “They said because I was breastfeeding and I was so young, I didn’t need a mammogram. I didn’t feel great about it, but I didn’t know what else I could say.”
Ivon took her prescribed medications with no results, and her breast continued to worsen. In April, she scheduled an appointment with her obstetrician who realized something was wrong. She was referred to a breast cancer specialist, but didn’t hear from the office for over a week to schedule an appointment.
Out of growing concern, Ivon went to see her primary care physician, who helped schedule her appointment before she left the doctor’s office. Before seeing the breast cancer specialist, Ivon was scheduled for another ultrasound and a mammogram.
“They did the ultrasound first because they believed I was too young and I was breastfeeding, which was very frustrating,” said Ivon. “The ultrasound results led them to finally determine I should have a mammogram done.”
When Ivon’s breast cancer specialist looked at her breast, she told Ivon that she wanted to be wrong, but she believed Ivon had cancer. Ivon had a skin biopsy done and a breast biopsy done later that day. After her initial diagnosis, Ivon had the scans done which further revealed her cancer was stage 4 and had metastasized.
Ivon’s oncologist recommended she begin chemotherapy and radiation. Her aunt, Ana, said Ivon spoke with her about the treatment plan and mentioned she didn’t feel quite right about the doctor. Ana recommended another oncologist who she had heard positive things from the cancer patients she had worked with and Ivon switched.
“I’m currently being seen at Nebraska Cancer Specialists,” said Ivon. “My cancer is hormone driven, so I’m currently taking a pill for chemotherapy and I’m on medications that are supposed to put me in a medical menopause. I feel much better with this treatment plan.”
Though her experience has been full of difficulties, Ivon said she believes her diagnosis has given her a new purpose and has made her an even more diligent nurse.
“I’ve learned through this experience that it’s so important to stand up for yourself,” said Ivon. “The least I can do for myself, my family and others is to encourage everyone to advocate for themselves. I want everyone to know that you shouldn’t give up. You deserve to be heard and your health matters, so please keep fighting.”