Like everyone, there are bad days and good days for Dolores “Dee Dee” Treviño.
On good days, the 37-year-old mother of two says she enjoys the company of friends and family who stop by her home in south Edinburg. When her strength is high enough she attends sports practices or games for her children, Michael and Celeste. On bad days, Treviño says she cries but still smiles through constant pain.
Then there are the really bad days. Times when she says she doesn’t want to take it anymore, and yearns for a life free of the cancer that has affected her for the past two years.
But for Treviño, every day the feeling remains to persevere despite the disease her doctors say is terminal.
“I hope I send this message across to these people, whether they’re sick or not sick, any little thing I want them to keep going and to not give up…I can’t give up, I have to keep going,” said Treviño, an educator and coach at Villarreal Elementary School.
“I know for me, people that know me or that see me think that I’m just this strong person and that I have this idea that this is nothing or I go through it or I live through it because I am at my daughter’s practices or my son’s games, it’s hard … (but) I just feel like I have to keep going.”
Trevino has Triple Negative Breast Cancer, a rare and often terminal subtype that can only be treated with chemotherapy.
The disease is generally diagnosed based on the lack of three “receptors” known to fuel most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), according to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization meant to raise awareness of the disease and to support scientists and researchers in their effort to determine its causes.
A triple negative breast cancer diagnosis means that since the offending tumor is negative to all three receptors it does not respond to receptor targeted treatments. Even though chemotherapy has proven successful, the disease can be aggressive, and more likely to recur than other types of breast cancer, according to the TNBCF.
In Treviño’s case, she said the disease started when she discovered a hard lump the size of a ping-pong ball in her right breast and went to doctors who promptly ordered a mammogram and sonogram in June 2007. Treviño’s insurance covered the mammogram but not the sonogram, and family constraints resulted in her holding off the procedure until Jan. 2008. Mammograms can’t confirm whether you have cancer, Treviño said.
“I guess I waited too long. I know when I found it, it was real noticeable. Even my husband noticed it,” Treviño said. “At the time, there wasn’t enough (but) there should be no reason for you to put it off.”
In Feb. 2008 Treviño endured a mastectomy, removing her right breast and 20 lymph nodes, three of which tested positive for cancer. What followed was eight months of chemotherapy, which lasted until Oct. 2008. She began her first round of radiation in Oct. 2008 to December 2008. A second round began in March 2009, and during this time tests showed the cancer had spread.
Shortly after her second round of radiation, which ended in June, Treviño said she was having trouble breathing, and for about a week she slept sitting up with a “real bad pain in my chest.” Doctors would later tell her that liquid had filled in her lungs, which were 80 percent filled.
“The doctor was surprised, he could not believe the cancer had spread from February to June so fast,” Treviño said. “At this point we decided our fight with cancer would continue at MD Anderson in Houston.”
Doctors would recommend something, Treviño said, at the time was the worst thing that could have happened. Her doctor suggested she take Advil for pain, which Treviño would later find thinned her blood and overall causes problems for cancer patients.
“He didn’t tell us much, he didn’t say where it was or what it was, he just said it was in the surrounding areas ‘it had spread’,” Treviño said about her doctor in the Valley, who she preferred remain nameless. Having gone through chemotherapy once before, in June 2009 Treviño made the final decision with her husband to go for treatment in Houston.
“I told him ‘I can’t wait, I don’t think I want the treatments here,’ and I wanted to know what was going on,” Treviño said about her talk with her husband. “Then I called the doctor myself and told him that I needed him to refer me to MD Anderson and told him ‘I don’t care how long it takes, but I would rather go over there’ and he said ‘ok, I’ll make a phone call for you, and they will call you and let you know.’”
It was at MD Anderson that her doctor, Vicente Valero, diagnosed her with triple negative breast cancer, a disease that he said affects 20 to 25 percent of Hispanic women under the age of 40. Doctors at MD Anderson would also tell her the cancer had spread to her right lung and part of her liver.
As a result they put her on two types of chemotherapy drugs at the same time, including Xeloda and Ixempra, which Treviño said causes several side effects. Some can make her skin feel like it’s burning, she said. With Ixempra, which is administered intravenously, the family has to travel to Houston every three weeks. With Xeloda she takes seven pills a day for two weeks, and then one week off.
Doctors also put her on Avastin, which doctors told her will attack all the cancer cells that develop.
“Here I am thinking triple negative breast cancer was a good thing, because here I am testing negative for the receptor cell,” Treviño said. “When he (doctor) said terminal I was devastated, and I know my husband didn’t know what to say. He was just saying ‘this can’t be.’ My next question to doctors was, ‘What do I need to do, what can I do to prolong it or for my life to keep going as long as it can, what are the odds.’”
Treviño said the strength to carry on despite the cancer comes from her faith in God and the encouragement and prayers from family and friends. She said she feels blessed to have the care and support from so many people. She credits Jaynie Snell, a teacher at Memorial Middle School and a cancer survivor, who spearheaded a fundraiser in Treviño’s name.
“My husband and children continuously help me get through the rough times,” Treviño said. “I just think of them, and I have to keep going. I want to give hope to others when they see me and see that I’m still going. I know I don’t want other people to give up. I hope I set an example for them, that they can keep going as well, just like I am.
Dee Dee’s husband Boonie said he believes he must be strong and remain positive to guide the family through this ordeal.
“My wife has and always will be a kind, loving and giving person, all of this in a nutshell describes what my wife is, that is open arms to everybody, and the hope she is going to give everybody that is going through this,” he said. “We are thankful for the community getting involved in helping with Dee Dee’s fight against cancer.”
Treviño said at the insistence of her doctors she will likely not be teaching or coaching this year, even though its the children that inspire her to keep fighting.
“The medication I am on has several side effects, which hinder my ability to perform my duties as a P.E. coach for the school district,” she said about the chemotherapy, which lowers her immune system and makes her more susceptible to germs. She can’t be in the sun for long. Treviño said she feels sad that this school year will start without her, but says she is hopeful to be back soon. She said she will miss her students and coworkers.
“Even though I love it, my job as a P.E. coach entails working with kids from kinder to fifth grade,” she said. “They all like to be around me but I know I can’t be susceptible to germs or getting sick because with chemo my defenses are down, so the best thing for me is to rest at home and let the medication take its course.”
For the last two years since Treviño was diagnosed, the group formed in her honor, Dee’s Angels, which has participated in McAllen’s Relay for Life. Scores of her supporters turn out for the event, which they in turn use to support the American Cancer Society’s fight against the disease.
Friends and family will be holding a benefit barbecue that will take place on Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Unlimited Oilfield on Chapin Road located next to International Paper Company in Edinburg. While there the family will look to disseminate more information about getting checked for cancer along with the barbecue plates they sell.
“It’s so they can be more aware about how serious it can be and not to take it for granted,” Treviño said about the literature they will be handing out. “I want to give hope to others when they see me and see that I’m still going. I know I don’t want other people to give up. I hope I set an example for them, that they can keep going as well just like I am.”
“Early detection is the key to survival,” Treviño said.
Those willing to donate to the family can do so with a special account set up by the family at Inter National Bank. The account number for donating is 6063101 and is under the name Guadalupe Treviño and Dolores Treviño. Anyone seeking more information about the barbecue can call organizers of the event at 227-5946, 393-0008.