Tetta is and has been very health-conscious, and she's had mammograms done regularly. Her last one in March showed nothing was amiss, but the appearance of the lump merely two months afterward signaled a drastic change in her health and lifestyle. After having tests and an out-patient lumpectomy done, her doctor found five malignant lymph nodes and said she had stage IIIA breast cancer.
Tetta was with her family when her doctor called her husband to deliver the bad news. "I was with my kids, we were holding hands, just listening to my husband talking to the doctor, then he says, 'Yes. Okay. So you found five malignant lymph nodes,'" she recalls. "When I heard that, I said, 'Can it get any worse?' And I just started crying so hard, and my kids started crying so hard. And my son said, 'Mama, are you going to die?' At that moment, I really didn't have an answer. What do I do? So we just cried."
But while she, her husband, and her son, were in tears, it was Tetta's 15-year-old daughter, Riana, who served as her rock and encouraged her to stay strong. "She was saying, 'It's okay. Mama's going to be fine. She's going to overcome this. God's trying to tell us something. Maybe there's a lesson behind this. We just have to be patient. We have to believe that this serves a purpose.' After that initial shock and all the crying that weekend, I decided, I'm going to beat this."
Now a breast cancer advocate in addition to her regular roles as a mother, a wife, a columnist, and more, Tetta remains happy and shows it’s still possible to keep living your life while undergoing treatment for cancer. While she can't exercise as often or as rigorously as she did before, she still continues to work out. She also sees her friends and spends time with her family.
Cancer hasn't stopped her from being beautiful inside and out. Rather than hide her baldness under a wig at the latest Philippine Fashion Ball, she decided to embrace the "Bald is beautiful" concept and show off her new look. When Karen asks her if she felt sad when she had her hair shaved off, Tetta beams and says, "No. It was part of the process. It was a non-issue. I was prepared. There's no shame in being bald. It's liberating."
What really struck a chord with her was seeing another woman with cancer who was waiting at the hospital lobby with her before she got her first chemotherapy session. Tetta saw how alone the woman felt despite being surrounded by her family. “I wanted to tell her, 'You know, it's going to be okay. You’re getting treatment; you're going to be fine. Feed on the love that other people are giving you.'”
“Life does not have to shut down,” she adds as advice for other women going through the same thing. “You don't have to cocoon yourself, and then you'll become depressed, become hopeless. Once you let that come in, then half of your battle with any kind of illness is over. Because you're already telling yourself, ‘I'm done. I can't do this anymore.’ And you know the power of the mind is unbelievable.”
Tetta tells Female Network what you, as a woman, can do as precautionary measures against cancer. "It is important to take all the medical exams required of women without any excuses or delays, especially when you reach the age of 40," she says. "Make sure to do regular self-breast exams to keep track of changes that may occur in your breasts from day to day since you are the one who knows your body best."
It doesn’t matter how small the change you find in your breasts are, she adds. Just go to the doctor as soon as you notice something different. "Early detection can spell the difference between short-term or long-term treatment, a possible lumpectomy against a mastectomy, small or big medical bills, and, in the worst case scenario, life and death."
For Tetta, her dedication to a healthy lifestyle is currently helping her in her battle against cancer. "I urge women to stay fit and healthy because, when you do get afflicted with breast cancer, a strong, healthy body is more able to withstand the side effects of chemotherapy, allowing you to lead as close to a normal life as possible between treatments."
Watch the rest of Tetta's interview on Headstart with Karen Devila below:
To read her story in her own words, check out Tetta's column on The Philippine Star:
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Want to read more articles about cancer? Check these out on FN:
- 10 Tips for Helping a Loved One Diagnosed with Cancer
- What Every Woman Should Know about Ovarian Cancer
- Cervical Cancer Tally Still High in the Philippines
- Hot GirlTalk Topic: What Every Woman Should Know about Cervical Cancer
- What Every Woman Should Know about Heart Disease, Diabetes, Osteoporosis, and 4 Other Health Concerns
- What Every Woman Should Know about Breast Cancer
(Photos used with permission from Tetta Ortiz-Matera)
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