My Story: Erica Villarreal Ellis, ThriveWell Diva

This was me, in January 2020. I walked the 2020 Walt Disney World 10K with a group of good friends who helped support me along my cancer journey. This was just over 5 weeks after my implant exchange surgery.

My Diagnosis
I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer in January 2019. I have a family history of breast cancer, but not with this subtype, which was more aggressive and has a higher rate of being found in later stages and has a higher mortality rate. I was scared but armed with lots of knowledge, faith, and support of my husband, family & friends! I started 16 rounds of chemotherapy in February and finished in early July 2019. I was able to take part in an imaging study called ARTEMIS with MD Anderson in Houston, TX, but I was able to complete my chemotherapy infusions locally at The START Center here in San Antonio under the care of Dr. Amy Lang.

What Happened Next?
I opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction to tissue expanders. Dr. Brittany DeBerry performed the surgery and a week later she let me know that I’d had a full response to chemo. It was an answer to all of my prayers. A few months later I had my implant exchange surgery performed by Dr. Chet Nastala with PRMA. I never expected to be diagnosed with cancer, especially at 36. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. I’ve been a runner for a few years, and I pulled a lot of my mental strength from that training, but it was still hard. I leaned on my faith, family, friends, and my incredible care team both locally and at MD Anderson to help get me through. Now that I’m almost 18 months out from initial diagnosis I’m still regularly seeing my care team for check-ups and life looks a little more like it did before my diagnosis.

Nutrition, Exercise and Helping Others
I’ve also changed my life in better ways. I’m a healthier eater, don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat red meat, and I try to exercise at least 5-6 days a week. I’m also a much better advocate for my health and I encourage my friends and family to do the same. I’ve also been able to help others who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer to answer any questions I can, to be an ear to vent to, and just be there during their journey. I thank God every day for my good prognosis post treatment and I hope to be a source of light and hope to those who face this diagnosis in the future.