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Choosing Happiness

By Genevieve Branco

Brenda had just turned 40 when she got the unexpected
news that her first-ever mammogram was abnormal, she told
me at the small coffee shop, Bread and Honey. I had
suggested we meet at Starbucks, but Brenda wanted to
support a local business, which pretty much sums up the
thoughtfulness and kindness that embodies Brenda Corona.

Amongst her first few sentences as we sat down to talk,
Brenda made a point to tell me that the way she lives her
post-cancer life is to “give it to God” and to believe that
“whatever will be, will be.” I could tell already that Brenda
was a genuine woman, and that I was going to leave this interview differently than I came. Here’s
Brenda’s story.

In Brenda’s life, as in everyone’s lives, there were ups and downs. In order to understand her breast cancer journey, one does not need to go back too far (although perhaps Brenda’s story really
begins when she got her boobs in third grade). It was about four years ago when Brenda and her husband, Fernando, had their third son. At that time their older boys were 12 and 7, and they had
decided to stop family planning and see what would happen. Well, her third son is what happened!

Brenda had worked full-time in the insurance industry for years but when COVID-19 hit and her job was moved to her home office, and at that time she had a nine month old son. Thank heavens for her mom, who would come over and help with the baby, but as Brenda put it, a baby wants her mom, and that made it challenging to work from home. In 2021, as things were opening back up from the pandemic, Brenda took a leap and opened a women’s boutique, another “up” in her life. She celebrated her 40th birthday and everything seemed to be going her way, save a little tiredness from what she thought was being a working mom of three with a new business. Her labs were great and the doctor scheduled her
for a routine mammogram. She never imagined that there would be anything wrong on the test, but sure enough, on October 22, 2021 her mammogram was reported as “abnormal and suspicious.”

It was not the news that Brenda was looking for, obviously. They repeated the mammogram to get a better look, and unfortunately the doctor said that in his experience the abnormality looked like
cancer. At that point, Brenda braced herself for the worst. As she prepped for a biopsy, she also prepped for a positive diagnosis of cancer, but when she got the call on October 26, she still wasn’t ready. As she called her friends and family and shared the news that she had stage 2A breast cancer in her right breast
and lymph node, things started to move quickly in terms of calls and appointments. Brenda had a whirlwind of emotions going through her – from freaking out, to wondering how she didn’t know that
she had cancer, to wanting to get it out of her fast before it got worse. She was told that she had an aggressive and rare form of breast cancer and was lucky that it was found early.

Fortunately for herself, Brenda is a strong advocate and despite challenges with her insurance trying to dictate certain providers and treatment, she was ultimately able to follow the treatment plan
that she and her chosen providers wanted. Brenda started chemotherapy on November 1, just 5 days

after she was diagnosed. Her luck ran out a bit during the first chemo session when she had a bad reaction and began shaking all over for 20 minutes. More bad luck transpired when her portacath
stopped working and wouldn’t allow them to use it to draw blood, and by December she had to get a new portacath because of an infection. Brenda’s chemotherapy continued every three weeks for an entire year. Like others, she lost her hair, although she said she held onto it as long as she could. For Brenda, she considers her hair and her breasts as part of her self-expression. Even though she knew she would lose her hair, it still was hard for her when it happened.

Brenda had a double mastectomy on August 1, 2023. Since she opted for reconstructive surgery, the plastic surgeon was able to put her breast tissue expanders in at the same time to help prepare her
for her implants. She just finished 25 sessions of radiation on her breast, neck, and arm pit. The radiation was exhausting, both mentally and physically, leaving her raw and bleeding and in pain after each session. Plus, she noted, radiation is every day, which serves as a constant reminder that you have cancer. It disrupts your life because you must plan your whole day around radiation appointments. It is physical pain, because it burns and hurts, but it’s emotional pain as well because you are continuing to live the experience of the treatments, being around others who are also sick, and eager for the whole thing to be over. But Brenda is a faithful person. She knew God was with her, and she kept moving
forward through that challenging time.

Brenda became aware of how insensitive people can be, despite their efforts to say and do the right thing, during her cancer journey. In fact, she reflected on a time when one of her friends had
cancer, and she said she recently went to her and apologized for things she might have said out of well-meaning. After having gone through this, Brenda would encourage those who are lending support to simply empathize, comfort, and offer help. Saying, “I’m so sorry that you’re going through a lot” is enough. There is no need to try to help a person find a silver lining by suggesting that they are getting a “free boob job” or by reassuring someone that breast cancer is “the good cancer” because of its high survival rates. Saying things like that is insensitive to the real challenge that a breast cancer patient is going through, which is far different than elective surgery, and a battle that leaves each person dramatically physically and emotionally changed. Instead, Brenda says, just show love and compassion.

She now realizes that every cancer journey is different, and you never know how you will react until you go through it. Some people like to call cancer survivors strong, but Brenda said, “we’re not strong, we didn’t have an alternative but to go through what we went through.”
For Brenda, cancer has been a roller coaster. She has experienced sadness, grief, anger, and fear. She is acutely aware that her life will never be the same. Her own body image has been drastically affected, and that has affected other areas of her life. However, Brenda is still overflowing with light and hope. She is incredibly real, honest, and transparent about her experiences and feelings, which is part of what is going to make her an amazing advocate for others in the future. Brenda says that those affected by breast cancer need to be seen and heard. She said even in a room full of people, you can still not be seen or heard. This is the area that she is passionate about for her own future – being an advocate and lending a voice to women going through what she went through.

“Don’t ever lose hope,” Brenda says. No one is promised tomorrow, so just live your life. She encourages everyone to give themselves time to mourn, but then get up and fight for their own happiness. Happiness is within each one of us, and it’s up to each person to choose to continue to move forward.