Fundraiser fights her own battle with breast cancer

May 19, 2009

By Jim Feehan

Evelyn De la Cruz

Evelyn De la Cruz

Evelyn De la Cruz longs for the day when her daughter doesn’t have to worry about breast cancer.

The Issaquah woman has been a tireless advocate for early detection and fundraising for the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure organization.

She had planned to staff a booth at the Puget Sound Race for the Cure event June 7. Instead, she’ll be home recuperating from her second breast cancer surgery in less than two years. It’s a disease she’s all too familiar with. Her mother, Aline Stulberg, died in 2002 at age 64 of breast cancer.  So, too, did her maternal great-grandmother. When De la Cruz was diagnosed in August 2007 at age 37, the disease became far more real than she ever could have anticipated.

She had just been laid off from her job, her husband was on active military duty in another state and she had two young children to care for, in addition to navigating her treatment and recovery. Through her family and friends, she received the physical and emotional support she needed to get through those first, very difficult weeks.

“I had to explain to my then-6-year-old daughter that, no, mommy wasn’t going to die just like grandma had,” she said.

Following a routine mammogram, De la Cruz was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, often referred to by the acronym DCIS. It is often also referred to as “stage zero breast cancer.” In DCIS, some of the cells lining the ducts (the parts of the breast that secrete milk) have developed abnormally, but the abnormality has not spread to other breast cells.

De la Cruz had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

“I was basically told I was done with the cancer,” she said of her surgery two years ago.

Eight weeks after the surgery, she moved from Texas to Issaquah and began a new job as a human resources professional at an online retailer.  She also began volunteering at the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

Just as she was settling into her new job, she was diagnosed last month with breast cancer again. It returned in exactly the same location.

“My first thought was, oh my God, not again,” she said. “Then, I went through a period of fear and anger. But then, I stopped and said anger is not going to get me cured and healthy.”

She’s passionate about spreading the message of early detection, improving treatment options and driving research into not only a cure, but to the ultimate goal of prevention of this disease.

She participates in the Susan G. Komen speaker’s bureau. Earlier this year, she stressed the importance of early detection when she spoke to a Latina sorority at the University of Washington.

“The minority community does not have the same level of early detection and medical care,” said De la Cruz, whose husband is Hispanic. “We need to raise awareness, because it’s not talked about in that community.”

In March, she was asked if she would like to serve as a runway model for J.C. Penney at the Northwest Women’s Expo in Seattle.

“It was fun meeting other cancer survivors at the event,” she said.

In the days leading up to her surgery, De La Cruz continues to raise money for the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, speaking to groups of women and preparing race packets for participants in the Race for the Cure walk.

“If seeing thousands of people running in the street gets one more person checked, then I’ve done what I set out to do,” she said. “We will find a cure and we can all contribute to getting rid of this darn thing.”

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