BELOIT - For Maria Dolores Torres De Lara, surviving a breast cancer diagnosis and years of treatment has helped give her a new lease on life, from getting closer with family to living each day to its fullest.
Torres De Lara, who lives in Clinton with her husband, moved to the Beloit area in 2011 after emigrating to California from Mexico in 2000. She has a kind smile, but underneath the surface is a refined determination only she and other cancer survivors know.
In October 2012, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and by December of that year she'd undergone surgery to remove one of her breasts.
Through the help of the Wisconsin Well Woman Program (WWWP) Torres De Lara was able to get access to treatment, after initially worrying she wouldn't have proper medical care since she was uninsured and English was her second language.
"In the beginning I suffered a lot," she said. "The months before surgery, I felt like the cancer was going to take over."
Since her successful surgery and remission diagnosis, she's been on medication to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. During her treatment, she said the support from her family, her workplace and the community helped her through the trying time. Along the way she met other cancer survivors and even said she hopes to help those in the community who've been diagnosed.
But her unwavering nature hasn't always been with her, she said, remembering dark times right after her diagnosis.
"They told me I had cancer and at that moment I really didn't want to live because I knew that cancer meant death," Torres De Lara said.
At her job as housekeeping supervisor with Fairfield Inn & Suites, she said she contemplated what to do following her diagnosis, but recalled a moment when one of her daughters called her from school, bringing her back to reality.
Torres De Lara said during her treatment she was able to get closer with her family, including her daughters, 22-year-old Jessica and 16-year-old Gladys. She added that her husband was there every step of the way, attending doctor appointments and helping her through her battle with cancer.
"It's important to have your spouse not see your value as only your beauty," she said.
As the days turned to weeks and weeks into months, Torres De Lara, a strong Catholic, grew closer with her faith.
"With time I just became closer with God," Torres De Lara said. "I got close with my relationship with my daughters. They were the ones that made me stronger. It's not easy at all." Fast forward to today and the loving mother and wife says she's happier post-diagnosis than she ever was before.
"I am happier because I am alive," Torres De Lara said. "Of course I value my life more now."
Once solemn and unsure, Torres De Lara now has played an active role in helping her niece through her fight with breast cancer.
"I am giving her a lot of support and telling her that she can overcome it," she said. "I have told her that she needs to focus on her family and not just to think that you are going to die."
She urges women to get regular screenings for breast cancer, and also spoke strongly in favor of maintaining a support network and as much of a normal life as possible for those going through treatment following a diagnosis.
"Do not be afraid. If you are afraid, the cancer could advance," Torres De Lara said. "If it becomes advanced, things get more complicated. You can make it through the cancer."