Getting diagnosed with cancer is something that shocks you to the core when you first hear the news. For some Latina women who don’t speak the language, the experience and anxiety to understand what is going on are even worse. Judy Guitelman was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, at that time her daughters were very young and she had the added stress of going through a difficult divorce.
“When they tell you that you have cancer your world comes crashing down and the first thing you think about is that you’re going to die,” says Judy Guitelman. The doctors first noticed something was wrong when she had her yearly mammogram, and luckily the routine procedure was able to catch cancer at an early stage.
Guitelman, who is originally from Argentina explains that she doesn’t have any family here other than her daughters and her ex-husband. “The first experiences were horrible because I didn’t know what to do first. I didn’t know if I should call my family, I didn’t know if I should call my doctor, I didn’t know where to go because I had never had a health problem before,” she says.
She didn’t even have breast cancer symptoms, lumps, drainage or even pain–absolutely nothing. She wasn’t even able to feel the small lump that they found during the mammogram with an auto-exam because it was too small, which was a good thing.
It was a difficult time and with no close family, she called her friends Patricia and Guillermo for support. “They were people I could trust and they helped me make the decisions I wasn’t able to face on my own,” she said. When you get a diagnostic like this, you don’t know where to run first, so you need friends or family that can guide you and help you make the best possible decisions. Guitelman told her daughters during Thanksgiving at her friends’ house because she thought that way it would be less painful for her daughters.
She had the tumor extracted and had radiation–no chemotherapy. “While I was doing my radiation treatment, I realized that there were a lot of Latinas that were going through the same thing as I was, except there were some that were unable to communicate because they didn’t know English and they needed an interpreter,” she explains.
During that time she looked for professional support and found Y-Me, a National Breast Cancer Organization. She became involved with the organization and helped start community support groups for Latinos at various hospitals. But then, due to lack of funding, Y-Me had to close their doors. “I thought to myself, how do I tell these women that come to these support groups and that trust me that we’ve closed our doors?” she explains. She wasn’t able to do it and continued the support groups, and in 2011 she opened ALAS-WINGS, Latina Association for Breast Cancer.
With the newly founded cancer organization, she was able to give women the wings they needed to be independent, have their own voice and continue on with their lives. In addition to the support groups, they help them get the resources they need, as well as give presentations on breast cancer in the Latino community and even donate bras and wigs for those that need them.
“There is a lack of information in the Latino community, many women do not get their yearly mammograms. When Latina women get diagnosed with cancer it is at an advanced stage, so the treatment has to be more aggressive,” explains Guitelman.
“Latino women always wait, we always make time for other things—the children, the house, dinner, the novella, everything comes first then we go to the doctor.” Even if they notice something is off such as lumps in their breasts, change in color, drainage, they wait instead of running to the doctor like others do.
This is why when she was offered the opportunity to speak about her experience with breast cancer in the Estee Lauder campaign, We’re Stronger Together, she didn’t hesitate. “This is the first time Estee Lauder does a campaign in Spanish and this is an eye-opener because you are not alone, look for help, there’s support for breast cancer and it is not a death sentence if they find it early,” she says. Visit ALAS-WINGS.org for more information.