Student beats breast cancer, ready to tackle graduation:
Oct 3rd 2012
Sue-Ellen Jimenez was given awful news that paused her schooling at RIC and changed her life forever; on Sept. 16, 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A little over a year later, this biology major found herself once again exploring the campus as a breast cancer survivor while balancing school work with several activities she participates in with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation. We will soon see her face on the “Celebrate Hope, Celebrate Life” 2013 Calendar as Miss September.
“Because of [Gemma], I am here today,” said Jimenez. In fact, it was a seminar held by the foundation that motivated her to try a self-breast exam. At the time, she found a small, pin-sized lump. Thinking it was nothing because she was so young, she brushed it off. Nearly a year later, she did another and realized it had grown to the size of a nickel and had travelled. After discovering the growth for the second time, Jimenez’s anxiety kicked in and she was compelled to make an appointment.
“As stupid and as crazy as it sounds, I would not be here today if I did not do [a self-breast exam],” Sue-Ellen said, adding that she did not feel any different, so she never would have expected there to be anything wrong. “If you feel something, say something.”
During a scheduled appointment, doctors told her she was too young to have breast cancer and that it would be very rare, but, to stay on the safe side, they decided to do an ultrasound. The doctors began with one mammogram, which led to another. When a radiologist was sent in to do her ultrasound rather than an ultrasound technician, Jimenez asked them to disclose what exactly was going on. She was told they found some calcification. Later, doctors found a tumor and extracted fluid to find out what it was.
“My doctor had called me back and asked me to come into the office so we could talk,” Jimenez said. “That was a hard day.”
Her doctor suggested she pull her car over and turn it off. He told her the news of her cancer. Jimenez continued her day: she got her car fixed and went to work where she mustered a smile and pretending everything was okay.
“I was Stage 1, Grade 3 Her2 positive…” Jimenez reflected. “I found out about diagnosis, and I turned around and decided that it didn’t matter, I would still continue with my schooling and continue what I was doing, but I was wrong.”
Chemo was an extremely difficult experience for Jimenez; it made her sick, and soon after receiving treatment, she dropped out of college because of her suppressed immune system.
“I decided to try to keep it a secret and I only decided to tell people who were close to me that needed to know… my mom, my family, my closest friends,” she said. But sooner or later, she had to tell her professors.
Jimenez wound up joining a group at Women and Infants whose focus was younger girls with breast cancer. Shortly thereafter, she ran into someone she knew while out one day. She was asked how she was feeling and she realized she had never mentioned it to them before.
“At that point, I got angry,” Jimenez said. She went to the group and vented. She decided she no longer cared who knew. At that point, one of the girls from the support group, a social worker named Mandy who became Jimenez’s close friend, approached her and asked if she wanted to take part in the 2013 calendar for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation.
Gemma kept her very active once she became a member. It was a really great experience for Jimenez, especially since some of the activities went a long way in helping her realize life goals.
“We did breaking boards and we had to put something that we’d break away from, or something that we aspired to do,” Jimenez said. “Funny, my board actually had the word graduate across it.”
Jimenez’s last day of treatment was July 5, 2012, and the doctors have told her she is cancer free and has no tumor. She is still Her2 positive and continues related treatment, but she was cleared to go back to school.
Although coming back to school came with many struggles, Jimenez is officially working through her junior-senior year.
“What made me come back to school?” Jimenez asked. “I want to get it done. Seriously. I want to graduate,” she said with a big smile on her face. “All of the trials and tribulations I have gone through made me a better student than I was before. It’s time to get it done.”
Jimenez still has her good days and bad. And while sometimes it is difficult to stay positive, she tries.
“[Everything] is surreal. It’s life. It’s an ethical issue: either you lie down and die, or you fight… the choice is ultimately up to you.”