Fary De Leon Dominican mother and hard working woman came to the U.S. in 1986 like many in search of a dream. For her New York represented the opportunity she was waiting for to succeed. De Leon’s first steps was to educate herself by taking some English courses. She worked a few days in a factory and from the first day she knew that job was not for her: she was extremely underpaid, didn’t get health benefits and worked very long hours. She knew she had the potential to do so much more and she did. For over 13 years, she was given the opportunity to acquire experience and training in areas of social service and community development, which granted Fary the emotional and financial stability she sought. Her story took a turn when she was faced with the unforeseen situation of being diagnosed with breast cancer. She nearly died from this incurable form of cancer. Fary’s story is truly inspirational she’s not only a breast cancer survivor, but a woman who has dedicated herself to working hard for her community.
Chica Fresh: Fary, when did you find out you had breast cancer and what was the first thought that went through your head?
Fary De Leon:I found out I was diagnosed with breast cancer on February 5, 2010. On February 9th they did an emergency surgery because the tumor was too advanced and it was about to burst. The first thing that came to my mind was how do I tell my children.
CF: for most people when they hear the word “cancer” the initial thought or feeling is that they are going to die. Did you ever feel this way?
FL: I never thought for one second I was going to die. That was something I never thought about.
CF: Is there someone in particular that you recall that gave you the most support?
FL: I had a lot of support. My family was very close to me and thank God I have a lot of good friends. My family is really big and united and because of that I never felt alone. It was the opposite, the support gave me the inspiration to move forward. Trying to prevent them from any more suffering and just seeing that they were with me from the moment I was diagnosed, then the operation, chemotherapy and radiation was a blessing and I was just never alone.
CF: What is the most difficult part of having breast cancer?
FL: There are a lot of factors that are difficult when you speak about this disease. For starters, the emotional and physical aspects. The emotional factor is when you want to maintain positive mindset and there are times when doubt takes over. You think what will happen if I don’t overcome this? What happens if I am not here tomorrow? But besides that I was never afraid of death. On the physical side the treatments are very painful, the secondary effects of chemotherapy and the secondary effects of the radiation are beyond horrible. These treatments are very intense. Cancer hurts! Chemotherapy is horrific those sessions which provoke vomiting, dizziness and you loose sense of taste and sensation of touch are the worst and most difficult part of this disease.
CF: Being that you are a cancer survivor what advice can you offer other women who are going through this and probably don’t have the emotional or financial help?
FL: The advice I give people who are going through this is to try to focus not on the disease but in living one day at a time. For example, if they are receiving chemotherapy whether it’s weekly or bi-weekly not really focusing on the frequency of which you have to get it but to think that after each chemo you have one less to go. That everyday that passes you overcame the battle and you have one more day that you are winning! Maintain positive and to know that each day you won the challenge. Don’t make long term plans just live day by day.Focus on today the here and right now and enjoy and know that if today you are alive is because you won the battle against cancer. Also, if needed please seek professional help because unfortunately emotionally you get weak and it is very easy to be irritated and fall into depression. Therapy does not mean you are crazy and it helps you accept your condition and how to move forward with it and to see it in a different way.
CF: You are a woman who is a warrior, moves forward and inspires tell me about your annual march Latinos Contra El Cancer.
FL: The initiative to create the annual march and the creation of Latin Faces Foundation is because I had a lot of support from my family. On the other-hand I was very afraid of how to talk to them and struggled on what was correct or incorrect to say and I just didn’t know how to communicate. I called the American Cancer Society and called various hospitals looking for support groups in Spanish where me and family could have gone and speak about the condition and have coping skills sessions. Unfortunately, until this day none ever returned my calls and in that moment I noticed the emptiness and need in the Latino community of cancer awareness support groups in which they could go and talk and get valuable information in their language.Due to the fact that I didn’t have access to this I felt the need of providing this to my community and that is when the idea of creating this march Latinos Contra El Cancer came about and thankfully the community has responded in a great way because they understood that the need that I had is the same need that many have today. This year we had the 4th annual walk in which 3-5 thousand people participated along with community leaders. We celebrate life and emphasize that cancer is not death is a different lifestyle and that you fall when you give up. We provide services free and in Spanish for the community, we celebrate life for those who have perished and for the ones still battling and fighting this disease daily, we are bringing awareness to the community and what inspires me is when people say if you did it I can do it!