Doctors perform first of its kind surgery on El Paso mother with breast cancer

Friday, February 8, 2013 - 1:47pm

An El Paso woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer is on the road to being cancer-free after she was the first El Pasoan to undergo a new kind of surgery.

Alice Chavez spends a lot of her time supporting her triplet daughters on the basketball court.

You couldn't tell that just months ago she was battling the fight of her life.

"(I) went and got my mammogram and didn't expect anything,” said Chavez. “You're supposed to go when you're 40, I'm 46 years old, I thought, 'What's going to happen?'”

Then, her doctor requested she get four biopsies.

It was news that came a few days later that made her think time was running out.

"(I) went in and I'm sure the words that any woman doesn’t want to hear, ‘You have breast cancer.’ (It’s) really very surprising and shocking," said Chavez. "Hearing that is incredibly overwhelming and incredibly emotional. So for two hours, I just cried and didn't know what to do."

Alice then had to break the news to her family.

"I think that was the hardest thing that I had to do was tell my girls that I had breast cancer. It's just something you don't want to tell your children because it's something that... Will they have? Do they have to be worried about that? And then just knowing is mom going to die and I had to reassure them that whatever is to happen is to happen," said Chavez.

Much to her surprise, Alice discovered she didn't have to go out of town to get treatment; her best option was right here in El Paso.

"We have incredible physicians and we can recruit incredible physicians to our city," said Sally Hurt, CEO of Sierra Providence East.

Hurt put Alice in touch with two surgeons, Dr. Anh Lee and Dr. Mary Jo Wright.

“It was unique in the fact that Alice's breast cancer, other than her micro invasion, was a curable disease and for that we felt that this was a perfect candidate for our first surgery here in El Paso. And like we said there's currently wasn't anybody else doing this particular procedure here," said Wright.

"The one thing I remember her saying was you're not gonna die from this cancer. And that was reassuring because I didn't know what to expect," said Chavez.

The doctors removed the tumor and removed her breasts.

"We use a woman's own tissue to reconstruct her breast. We use a technique where we only take the skin and the abdominal fat outside the muscle and bring it up to the chest wall underneath the skin to make a new breast," said Wright.

It was a radical and complex operation. The kind of procedure that's now available to women right here at home.

"Our other passion is to try to let women know that they not have to leave El Paso to have excellent care here and that goes not from the surgical stand point but from the chemotherapy and the radiation therapy," said Wright.

Alice is now on the road to a cancer-free life. Doctors will check her health every three months for the next three years.

"People ask me, ‘How do you feel?’ I feel better than I did before. It's like I feel I have a second chance on life. You don't want to take things for granted. Nothing," said Chavez.

Now, she wants to be a one-woman support team for others battling breast cancer.

"I truly believe things happen for a reason. I think you experience things to be able to share with other people what you've gone through and offer them hope and know that they're not alone," said Chavez.

Doctor Wright recommended women get a mammogram when they turn 40 years old and another one every year after that. She also said there's a misconception about breast cancer being genetic. Doctor Wright said only three percent of breast cancer patients have a history of it in their families.


Reader Comments

This is such a good story with a happy ending! It is encouraging to other women who have breast cancer! Our medical technology has come a long way and El Paso is moving right along with it. This family has been through a lot but even through it all the support of her triple daughters and husband is transparent. Thank you to the Chaves family for sharing their story.

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