Survivor Story: Catalina Ramirez

Although Maria and Laura Ramirez were teenagers when their mother, Catalina Ramirez, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, they helped carry much of their mother’s burden. Maria, Laura and their two sisters stayed at their mother’s side, never missing a doctor’s appointment, surgery or chemotherapy treatment.

In 2011, they shared those duties again when their mother faced a second cancer, this time undergoing a mastectomy on her left breast followed by chemotherapy.

“That was the lowest point – when my mom got cancer again in 2011,” said Maria. “In private, I would cry, I was really scared. But I couldn’t show my mother I was scared.”

Laura says that her mother’s cancer made the sisters stronger and grow up faster. “I was just 17 when she was first diagnosed and, like any teenager, I had a lot of things going on. But, you have to be strong and you have to grow up. My mom needed us because she doesn’t drive and speaks only a little English. We just made the time. All four of us (daughters) took turns so we never left her alone.”

Catalina did her part, too, remaining upbeat throughout the process. “I see her as the strongest person ever,” said Maria. “Even though she would have chemo on a Friday, by the next Sunday she’d be up cleaning the house, cooking for us, even putting on her makeup. She was always positive.”

The Moncrief Cancer Institute was also a comfort for the family. “We took her to the Spanish support group at Moncrief,” said Laura. “I really liked it and my mom thought it was very helpful. She said it was a great experience to be free to talk with people in the same situation, people who knew what she went through.”

Moncrief also helped the four girls rest easier. “My mom got genetic testing done at Moncrief. When the results showed she didn’t have the genetic problem (indicating an increased risk for breast cancer) that made me feel better. I know that everybody’s at risk, but especially with four girls in the family, we feel happy it’s not hereditary cancer.”

What advice would they give to others fighting cancer? “I would tell others that you should never give up,” said Laura. “There is a lot of help out there, and plenty of people who care about you. Remember, whatever you’re going through, the hardest part doesn’t last forever.”