MIAMI - Maria Suarez is the assistant vice president of nursing at Miami Cancer Institute, and she is responsible for the areas of infusion where parents get their chemotherapy, responsible for the bone marrow transplant unit, the pediatric infusion, nursing education, and practice standards.
Her career in health care spans over 30 years with Baptist Health, it has been magnified by her personal experience with breast cancer, again and again.
"My sister died of breast cancer in 2009, as she was diagnosed in the 1990s," Suarez said.
"At that time in the 1990s, they didn't have genetic testing."
As a mother of three, she stresses that genetic testing is so important today.
Suarez's own diagnosis would come when she was in her fifties.
"In 2014, I was diagnosed with stage one triple negative breast cancer. I found out through regular mammograms because it was triple negative there was nothing else to really treat but to go through chemotherapy and radiation because it was triple negative there was nothing else to really treat the cancer."
She beat it.
In 2020, she took this job at Miami Cancer Institute, which opened five years ago providing all the cancer patient's needs under one roof.
Her timing would prove to be crucial.
"I always think things happen for a reason, and my family history."
During the height of the pandemic her daughter Stephanie, also a nurse at Baptist Health, would learn she has stage three breast cancer.
At that time no one other than patients and staff could come into the center.
"Although she's educated and she's a nurse she was still scared. I was here and able to support her because I worked here."
Bringing together her roles as survivor, mom, and employee and then again as a patient.
"As if all that wasn't enough, in March of this year I was diagnosed with stage two estrogen progesterone. At that time I had a mastectomy and I was treated on an oral medication that stops the production of estrogen. I feel lucky that it was caught early enough that I didn't need chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the second time."
She is incredibly grateful to her doctor, to be feeling well, and use her knowledge to the fullest.
"I can anticipate what they're thinking what they may be thinking of what they may be going through and you wouldn't know that unless you walked in their shoes."
As an advocate and a prime example, her message about early detection is loud and clear.
"The entire world lights up pink in October and although there have been many advances in breast cancer treatment, still the most important screening you can do is the mammogram early action saves lives I'm living proof of that. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I can't stress enough how important it is for early screening."
And lastly, she also stresses genetic testing is also a very important tool, there are resources available through Miami Cancer Institute.
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