Monday, November 14, 2016 12:00 AM

A team of support to navigate breast cancer

Nora Salazar, 56, a busy mother of five and grandmother of 12, put off investigating the marble-sized lump she found in her right breast for several months so she could take care of family out of state. But once she made an appointment at the Marjorie E. Radin Breast Care Center, it took less than a week to get her initial mammogram, biopsy and diagnosis. 

Nora Salazar, like many busy women with lots of family to care for, ignored the marble-sized lump on her right breast for several months before making an appointment to check it out in March 2015. After cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Salazar, 56, is keeping up with her grandchildren again, back to work fulltime and reaching out to share her cancer journey with other women.  

“I did the mammogram and then a sonogram to confirm there was a lump and they did my biopsy right away on a Tuesday,” said Salazar describing her diagnosis at the Radin Breast Care Center at Clovis Community Medical Center. “I went back Friday to get my results. When they gave me the news I was immediately taken in and introduced to the team that would take care of me. I was like, ‘Wow!’ ”
There were so many caregivers she barely remembered their names. The team included breast and plastic surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, a geneticist, social worker and nurse coordinator. She was stunned, but felt she’d be in expert hands.
“When I first heard cancer, I immediately had a vision of all my kids when they were little holding hands and looking up at me. I said, ‘How am I supposed to tell my kids?’ That was what I worried about the most.”
It was nurse coordinator Mary Stoll who shared her own experience with breast cancer and helped Salazar figure out how to break the news to her family who are spread out all over the country. And, it was Stoll who helped Salazar navigate through chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, radiation and breast reconstruction.
Radin is a certified breast cancer center of excellence where the team approach to cancer has sped up the process for thousands of woman from evaluation, through surgical, radiation and chemotherapy treatments and follow ups that may include breast reconstruction. Nurse coordinators provide support for each patient, helping with resources from finding a wig or a support group to explaining complex choices.
“I had stage 2 and they said it had been growing for a while, maybe even 10 years,” Salazar said. “I was thinking back and that’s when I was going through a divorce and raising three teenage boys alone. I had two jobs. They say stress can trigger it.”
Her five children all reacted differently to the news, but after talking with the Radin team, having a plan mapped out and getting help straightening out insurance, Salazar felt she could tell her family with confidence: “This is just a little bump in the road, but we’ll get through it.”
And every time there was a bump in her cancer care journey, Salazar said there was someone right there to help her over it – from getting her signed up for disability to finding a program to help pay for medications or navigating through complex insurance paperwork. “Things would just fall into my lap,” she said.
“During radiation was the only time I felt I might not be able to go on…I got a frozen shoulder and couldn’t put my arm up for a while. And one time it was so difficult during treatment I just started praying and ended up falling asleep through the treatment. While I was half asleep, I felt someone run a warm hand along my arm and I just felt all the pain go.”
When Salazar asked her radiation tech what he had done to help the pain go away. He said he hadn’t been there and suggested it was her guardian angel. “I started crying. I had such peace and release,” said Salazar. She knew for sure then she would make it through and regain her health.
Her grandkids watched their once vibrant, energetic grandma lose her hair and spend more time curled up on the couch, unable to host her usual slumber parties or make it out to watch all their sports practices. “My youngest grandson relates hair to feeling better. So when my hair started growing back, he’d look at me and say, ‘Grandma, you’re feeling better because your hair is coming back!’”
During the hair loss and days of drained energy Salazar said, “I felt like I was in a cocoon. I think God was saying, ‘Nora you need a time out.’”
She’s now done with her time out, and back to work fulltime as a consumer advocate for the poor and she’s out at all her grandson’s football practices rooting them on. Salazar is sharing her story and the lessons she learned, urging woman to not put off their mammograms or delay looking into anything suspicious they might feel. Salazar had gone more than two years between her mammogram and ignored her lump and changes in her energy level for four months.
Erin Kennedy reported this story. Reach her at