Self-advocacy means being actively involved in your cancer care from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship. Christena Garduno is the quintessential self-advocate having trusted her gut instinct following a questionable prognosis.
Christena is a CEO of an advertising agency, DEI advocate, gardener, dancer and much more, but being a researcher at heart is what truly saved her life. After a standard ultrasound, Christena’s doctor gave an initial diagnosis of fibroids and offered the solution of a myomectomy, an operation to remove fibroids while preserving the uterus. Self-advocacy can merely mean asking questions, and a healthy level of skepticism plus increasingly worsened symptoms led her to hire a radiologist for an MRI scan.
“I never felt one hundred percent content with the answers I received from my original doctor/surgeon,” Christena reflectively says of the experience.
Het gut instinct was right. The MRI report came back as “highly suspicious of a malignancy.” On a mission to find a more suitable medical team, Christena encountered Drs. LoCoco and Albuquerque and nurse practitioner Astrid of UT Southwestern Medical Center who acknowledged her not just as patient, but as a whole person. Questions filled Christena’s head like “What would the decision be regarding my treatment plan? What would be their final diagnosis? What will the treatment process be like and how can I prepare for it? What is the prognosis with this treatment plan and what other options are available if it doesn’t work?”
Patiently explaining every aspect of the journey, Christena found and relied on an expert team that listened carefully, showed compassion, supported her journey from start to finish, and made her treatment journey a collaborative experience. In addition to medical professionals, her community expanded to her agency’s leadership team, family, and friends who were all instrumental in her recovery process.
Having now beat cancer, Christena explains, “I would say I’m now a cancer thriver. Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, my perspective on life has changed significantly. I have come to appreciate the value of life and the importance of making the most of my time. Surviving cancer has given me a renewed sense of purpose and encouraged me to pursue what I love and appreciate the people in my life.”
She now feels an ever deeper sense of empathy for others who are going through similar situations or experiencing other types of adversity. In fact, what’s next for her is supporting others in navigating the cancer experience she has now hurdled. Christena’s sights are set on a new joint business effort that will provide comprehensive 24/7 support as a resource to cancer patients and their loved ones.
When it comes to self-advocacy, Christena advises two most important things – ask questions and trust your gut instinct.
“All of my initial medical decisions were made based on ultrasound images. I know I’m not a medical doctor, but through my own research, I knew it was not enough,” she explains.
In addition to asking questions and trusting your gut, playing an active role in your cancer care could mean researching reliable websites, getting a second professional opinion, or seeking counseling, therapy, or support groups.
After a cancer diagnosis, feeling shocked, overwhelmed, scared and even angry are real and normal emotions, but power can be found in seeking support, educating yourself and becoming your own advocate.
“It is essential to educate yourself about your diagnosis and treatment options. Ask your doctor questions about your cancer type, cancer stage, and the treatment options available. Understanding your cancer and its treatment can help you make informed decisions and feel more in control of your situation,” she states.
Having faced this unimaginable experience, Christena feels forever changed, stronger, more resilient, and infinitely more capable of dealing with life’s obstacles.