The Star-News


Fight was a social event

Sat, Nov 13 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

Michelle Reyes wanted her fight with cancer to be public.

Like many Americans, the 31-year-old Chula Vista native found the best way to get the word out was through social media.

"I hope that my blogs can be inspiring to you as I share my intimate journey in my fight against breast cancer," she wrote on Facebook.

In April 2009, Reyes was diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma in her right breast. Roughly seven months later, just days before Thanksgiving, she had it removed.

Reyes said she felt her story would help others become aware of the fact that cancer doesn't discriminate and is not always genetic.

The personal accounts of Reyes' treatment struck home with a fellow Morse High School alum.

In 2009, Sherwin Luna, 31, was diagnosed with heart cancer. He started reading Reyes' blog while he was in the Philippines.

"She amazed and inspired me with what she did and went through," he said. "Her faith was very strong."

It was during her chemotherapy treatments that Reyes created a team called Michelle's Rack Pack. The idea was to promote a breast cancer walk.

"It helped me in my journey to fight it (cancer)," she said. Reyes and her team raised more than $3,000 in one month.

After she lost her hair because of radiation treatments, Reyes posted a picture of herself on Facebook. She said that when people found out she had cancer there was an outpouring of donations and help from family, friends and cancer survivors. An excerpt from her blogs reads:

"...After getting diagnosed, it's only the beginning ... it's all quite draining mentally and physically. My advice is if you feel anything, just get a checkup ... don't be afraid..."

Reyes was at work when she received the news that the tumor the breast specialist found was malignant and 4.5 centimeters. "I was numb at first," she said.

"Then I had a spectrum of emotion - my world turned upside down," she recalled. "I was 29. Was this happening for real?"

The first question Reyes had was whether or not she would die.

The doctors began a series of tests the following week and one month after her diagnosis, Reyes started chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Her final chemotherapy treatment was Oct. 23, 2009.

Reyes is the administrative coordinator for facilities, inpatient and surgical services at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla.

Marlene Castillo has known Reyes for more than two years and is her boss.

"She's reaching out to anyone and everyone that she can possibly touch to help them be survivors as well," Castillo said of Reyes.

Castillo said a Scripps manager came up with the idea to support Reyes by wearing pink T-shirts every Thursday.

"It's become contagious to support Michelle through her radiation and chemotherapy process," Castillo said.

Reyes said she was a healthy person before being diagnosed with cancer. "I danced and went snowboarding and bowling," she said. "I was a very active 29-year-old with a healthy weight and lifestyle."

Today, Reyes is post cancer, or what she prefers to call "no evidence of disease."

"I'm very fortunate to be here," Reyes said.

Reyes made the decision to have her left breast removed as well after testing positive for the BRCA gene, which can reveal if a person is susceptible to cancer. She will have her second mastectomy Nov. 19.

Reyes said it's important for those with cancer to never lose hope. "I have moments of despair, especially this time of the season ... but now I'm here one year later - cancer didn't take over me because I'm a survivor," she said.

Reyes had "Hope" the pink breast cancer research bear to help comfort her. She said she wants other cancer patients to know there are people who care.

"You're not alone," she said. "You can call me and we can talk and cry together."


© 2009 The Star-News