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Breast cancer survivor urges women to get regular screenings and mammograms, thanks local non-profit ‘The Rose’

The first time Ediana Quijada found a lump in her breast, she was laughed off and told “it was happening because of her period and nothing to worry about.”

It was far from nothing. After a six-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, the cheerful Houston native is happy to share her story with other young women, advising regular breast exams, early detection having made a key difference in many cases.

In the fall of 2012, 29-year-old Ediana was finishing her construction management internship at the University of Houston.

The internship did not offer health insurance but UH hosts free mammography screenings in October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. However, when she told the nurses about her lump, they assured her, with a cursory glance, that she was too young to worry about cancer. She was sent away without a mammogram.

Reassured and a little abashed about being paranoid, she busied herself with assignments as the stresses of the semester took over. The second of four siblings (two sisters, one little brother), Ediana said she had no reason to suspect the worst because there was no history of cancer in her family.

But the lump wouldn’t stay quiet.


“I started feeling that the little lump was getting bigger and bigger,” Ediana said. “I could measure it; it was an inch now. Or is it in my head? Then I would calculate, my period must be coming, that’s why the lump’s getting big … and my breast is turning pink.”

A visit with her mother’s doctor in December confirmed the devastating news — a large mass in her breast. Could be a tumor. Clearly, the cancer had made good use of the two-month delay.

“I didn’t have insurance, so my mother took me to a walk-in clinic,” Eidana said. “The doctor said, ‘oh my God, why didn’t you come before?’”

A few hours and one $100-ultrasound later, she was advised to do a biopsy.

“The biopsy cost over $2,000, I thought ‘I can’t do that right now,’ and he (the doctor) referred me to The Rose,” Ediana said.

That first encounter with The Rose marked the beginning of Ediana’s long, painful but ultimately successful battle with breast cancer. A Houston-based nonprofit group, The Rose provides breast cancer screenings and treatment regardless of patients’ ability to pay. They began Ediana’s treatment by conducting another ultrasound, this one costing only $10.

A little monster inside your breast.

Ediana was paired with a patient navigator who helped her through the system and set up her appointments.

“It turns out I was Stage 3, Type C, which is borderline Stage 4,” said Ediana. “Very aggressive and very bad. They said, ‘it looks like you have a little monster inside’.”

Given the tumor’s massive size, treatment had to begin immediately. When three painful rounds of chemo (each lasting around eight months), one round of radiation and one surgery failed to eliminate the cancer, her doctors put Ediana on an–at the time–experimental drug called T-DM1.

“This

Houston nonprofit The Rose determined to help uninsured women receive breast cancer treatment

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted millions of lives in many ways, one of which is the severe cut back in the number people keeping up with their routine checkups. Houston-based nonprofit group The Rose, which has been helping women receive breast cancer diagnoses and treatments for over 35 years regardless of their ability to pay, is determined not to give up on its mission.

Dorothy Gibbons, CEO and co-founder of The Rose, said the marked increase in the number of people putting off their mammograms was disastrous since early detection was the key to stopping cancer in most cases.

“We are conducting our screenings while observing social distancing,” said Gibbons. “We’re at 75 percent of what we normally would be doing. Some of our ladies are having to wait a bit to get their mammogram.”

The Rose operates two clinics in Houston and Bellaire respectively where women, insured or uninsured, receive diagnostic and treatment services.


“Here’s the way it works, our 3-for-1 model,” she said. “Three insured women allow us to screen one uninsured woman.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness according to the World Health Organization. Under normal circumstances, the landscape would be dotted with cheering crowds in pink t-shirts, attending sporting events, flaunting pink ribbons and wristbands, all purchased for the purpose of raising awareness about the dreaded disease. It’s also when free screenings, mammograms and pamphlets of information are made available on college campuses and fitness centers.

Gibbons advised young women to start getting routine breast exams.

“Our youngest (patient) that we’ve diagnosed was 19,” she said. “This past year, we did diagnostic workups on about 2800 women under 40, and we diagnosed 61.”

This year, contagion fears have brought public gatherings to a to a halt. Moreover, millions of people have lost job-based health insurance.

“Many women will not go find out what’s going on in their breast because they’re thinking, I don’t have any money, I don’t have any insurance, how can I pay for treatment?’” Gibbons said. “You see there are programs available, and our patient navigators will get the uninsured woman in the program. So, there’s so many things that people don’t know are available when they put it [checkup] off, when you get into late stage breast cancer, and that a lot harder to treat.”

The Rose is also determined to host fundraising events, such as its annual shrimp boil. Instead of a large public gathering, they are hosting “Drive Thru Shrimp Boil” at their Southeast location on Oct. 10, with a goal of raising $50,000.

juhi.varma@hcnonline.com

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