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Leticia Jimenez feels blessed to be cancer-free

Leticia Jimenez has beaten the odds and considers herself blessed.

The 47-year-old valley resident survived a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in 2016 — an aggressive form that spread throughout her body and into her brain. While she’s still undergoing treatment today, some five years later, her prognosis is good. That’s a testament to the treatment that’s available even in the direst prognosis.

It was in June 2016 at the age of 42 when Jimenez noticed something bothering her under her armpit. She didn’t see anything but kept feeling it. At night, a light pain would wake her up whenever she slept on her left side.

The sensation bothered Jimenez so much that she went in for a checkup at a clinic. She was referred for an ultrasound and biopsy to find out why she felt uncomfortable, and Jimenez was diagnosed with breast cancer on the left side.

“There were a lot of emotions and then you hear the word cancer and it scares you. My husband (Pedro) started crying at the appointment,” Jimenez said.

Speaking through Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada Spanish-language interpreter Brenda Reardon, an oncology liaison, Jimenez said she started chemotherapy in August 2016 that lasted through the end of the year. In the fall of 2016, she learned the cancer had metastasized to her bones.

When her treatment was finished, she had surgery in February 2017 to remove her breasts. Although the cancer was only in her left breast, her physician suggested the removal of both because there was a concern it could also occur in the other.

In September 2018, Jimenez told her oncologist that she had a headache. The doctors ordered an MRI, and she learned the cancer had spread to her brain and required gamma knife radiation treatment. In December 2019, another MRI showed a small lesion on the brain that required additional radiation treatment. She later underwent surgery to remove a lesion but no cancer was found.

Liawaty Ho, her medical oncologist at Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada, said getting a cancer diagnosis isn’t easy for anyone, especially when it’s someone in their early 40s like Jimenez.

“Usually it’s unlikely to cure cancer when it’s stage 4, but with advanced technology and treatment we are able to increase survival,” Ho said. “The cancer is so aggressive and that leads to a poor prognosis.”

In 2016, Jimenez was given docetaxel, carboplatin, Pertuzumab and Trastuzumab. She is currently on maintenance of Pertuzumab, Trastuzumab, Lupron (ovarian suppression) and Exemestane.

“She is completely without any disease,” said Ho, who added that Jimenez’s August MRI and her body CT were both negative.

“To me, her story is quite inspiring for people,” Ho said. “Many times, when people are diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, they think that it’s a death sentence and that they’re going to die within three months. That is not the case anymore. With current cutting-edge therapy and improvement in technology, clinical trials and science we can find more treatments for our breast cancer patients and improve their survival significantly.

“Leticia is able to work full time. This is not somebody who doesn’t have a quality of life even after continuing on maintenance treatment. She enjoys her life. Patients should be realistic but not give up hope.”

Jimenez’s case shows the importance of starting annual mammograms at the age of 40 because the sooner the diagnosis the sooner the treatment, Ho said. The diagnosis for her form of aggressive breast cancer in the early 1990s wasn’t good.

“We know with stage 1 disease that five-year survival is almost 100 percent but with stage 4 … the five-year survival was around 20 percent to 22 percent, and when someone has (it spread to the brain), their survival is only about a year. Her story is about not giving up and earlier screening and diagnosis is able to save lives. Right now her prognosis is good. I can’t call stage 4 a cure but definitely in remission because I don’t see any evidence of disease.”

Jimenez said continuing her treatment five years later is difficult but the regimens are lighter these days. She now views it as being a part of her life and was told by doctors this should hopefully continue for a little longer. She went from seeing the doctor every three weeks to every 1½ months, which gives her hope.

That’s a lot to go through, but Jimenez said she feels good and is appreciative of what doctors and others close to her have done for her. She feels blessed.

“I believe that when you go through this, you value everything. I have two daughters and, at that time (in 2016), they were 10 and 12. Now they are 15 and 17 years old. I’m so appreciative that I can continue spending time with them,” said Jimenez as she began to choke up with emotion. “I’m sorry, it is part of the journey and the memories I remember that one goes through. It’s easy to tell this, but in reality, it has not been easy. Here I am, and I thank God as much as the treatment, medication, (exercise and vitamins) and style of life, especially my diet.”

Jimenez said she’s learned how to cope and deal with her cancer and has become calmer over time. She said the center gave her a guide in Spanish in 2016 about the journey of cancer that made her reflect. When it spread to her brain in 2018, it made her reflect even more.

“This has always been kept in my mind. I read this part and it said, ‘one always worries about everyone, the family, husband, our children’ and that I had to leave that worry and I had to be a little selfish to take care of me so I can then take care of them,” Jimenez said. “So in this book, those words stayed with me a lot and that is what I’m doing: taking care of me first so then I can take care of them, too.”

Jimenez said she now wants to help others in the fight against breast cancer. She’s constantly telling family and friends to get checkups because she comes from a culture where they’re embarrassed to get examined and touched. Jimenez said she will never forget the day when she was told she had breast cancer and now wants to help others.

“I placed a goal in my mind, to myself, personally, and said OK, let’s see who will win — cancer will win or I will win,” Jimenez said. “ So, I did it with a lot of faith, praying to God, and going to my treatments. The main principle I would tell people is don’t lose faith in God and to take care of themselves.”

Jimenez just opened a store, The Princess Party Store, 1735 N. Nellis Blvd., for party supplies and rentals that she co-owns with her family. How has the ordeal changed her perspective on life?

“I appreciate every moment with my family and admire the beauty of nature,” Jimenez said. “I live for the time with my daughters and want to spend every second with them.”

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