2 Oct 2017

A Survivor's Tale

Bruni Montenegro
Assistant Manager, Services/New Business
Pan-American Life Insurance of Panama

On October 30th, 2010 at 8:35 p.m., I received a telephone call from Dr. Pablo Duran that changed my life completely. The doctor told me that my biopsy results were positive. He said, “you have a malignant lesion in your breast that requires additional tests.”

At that time I had only been employed with Alico for two and a half months. My daughters were nine and 13 years old. We had plans to go to Disney World the following January. I had just paid the first trimester tuition at Universidad Latina to start my Masters of Human Resources.

In other words, I had a lot of plans. And just like that, with one phone call, everything changed. The sky came down. I remember that I couldn’t sleep that night turning with only one thought- how long do I have left to live? What will happen to my daughters if they lose their mother at such a young age?

I had surgery on December 15th and that was day one of my relentless battle against cancer. What followed were nine months of chemotherapy and two months of radiotherapy. I lost my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and some nails. I couldn’t be with anyone and I only ate vegetables and white meat.

I couldn’t kiss my daughters because my immune system was so weak.

But I was determined and today, I have four scars that are my most valuable war trophies. When I look at them I don’t feel sad. Instead, I am grateful because they remind me how blessed I am. 

The Battle Goes On

The battle is constant. I have to be tested every three months and that includes MRI scans and breast imaging tests. I am on medication that has to be taken every day for 10 years from the date of my surgery. It has side effects that affect my other organs. In short, it is a daily battle.

But I’m alive and that is a good enough reason to celebrate. I am blessed to be part of this huge community of women that have defied cancer and can now tell their stories and move forward. At the same time, for every woman that survives, there are many that do not. I’ve lost friends and I am sure that many of you out there have as well.

I bring this up because the lack of early detection accounts for many of the fatalities. So even though my fight to be cancer free has taught me a lot about my own strength, the biggest lesson of all is that to truly beat cancer, you have to take control of your risk factors. You have to do everything you can to reduce your risk and be observant to early indicators that something could be wrong.

As PALIG partners and insureds, we have a great opportunity to lead by example. Go and get a mammogram at minimal cost at the best medical centers. State hospitals are also providing facilities, especially this month. Make it a priority. Make sure that your mothers, grandmothers, daughters, and sisters get tested too. It could honestly make the difference between life or death.

I have worked in the insurance industry for thirty five years and have promoted prevention and proactive healthcare to all the policyholders I have dealt with. But I never thought I would have to deal with this situation personally. The truth is that cancer does not discriminate. All women are vulnerable to this terrible disease. That’s why prevention is so important. A mammogram and the self-exam are the only tools that we have to find it early.

Don’t be afraid of the results because the sooner you know, the sooner you can fight back and live a great life after recovery. I am living proof. I am happy and I am grateful. And when people ask me who I am, I tell them, “my name is Bruni Montenegro and I am a breast cancer survivor.”

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