stories from volunteers

picture of the three latina sisters
Left to right: Geri, Molly, and Elizabeth Ximenez
Name: Molly, Elizabeth and Geri Ximenez
Home State: California

Why? “We found that there were not sufficient breast cancer statistics among Latinas. This is why research studies and Latina participation is so critical. As sisters, we stand together to empower and provide outreach to those who may be impacted by cancer. The Sister Study is a wonderful tool to help find answers to what in our environment and in our genes may be causing breast cancer.”

The Ximenez sisters’ story
:Geri Ximenez, one of seven siblings and the youngest of three sisters, volunteered for the Sister Study when she realized that she was at high risk of having breast cancer.

The Sister Study is the only long-term study of women aged 35 to 74 whose sister had breast cancer. It is an observational study, not a clinical trial. Conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Sister Study is a national study to learn how genes and the things in our environment — homes, workplaces, and communities — influence women’s risk of breast cancer. It is the first study to collect such extensive and detailed information about environmental exposures. The study is inviting the participation of 50,000 women whose sisters had breast cancer and who do not have breast cancer themselves. Women from different generations and from various racial and ethnic groups and geographic regions of the U.S. and Puerto Rico will take part in the study. It is especially important that women of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American), participate, so the Sister Study results can be used to help as many women as possible.

In 1999, at the age of 49, the middle sister, Elizabeth Ximenez–Diaz, was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer, which was detected during her annual mammogram. Elizabeth underwent a radical mastectomy of the right breast. Because of other complications, doctors advised against any chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy. Within a year of her cancer diagnosis Elizabeth went in for her annual mammogram, which revealed cancer in her left breast. She had her breast removed. Within 14 months of her original diagnosis, she had endured extensive medical tests and seven surgeries. “Through her journey she was strengthened by the love and support of her husband and family,” says Geri. “Her strong faith and the belief in the power of prayer has resulted in her celebrating six cancer-free years.”

In early 2003, at the age of 54, the oldest sister, Molly, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. Molly’s annual mammograms showed no abnormalities. In mid–October of 2002 Molly began feeling twitches of pain in her left breast and felt slightly fatigued. By November she was experiencing severe dizziness and along with twitches she experienced piercing pain. At first, Molly’s primary doctor believed her symptoms were probably the result of work–related stress. On a follow-up visit, he discovered several lumps. In February 2003, results from a mammogram and needle biopsies revealed that Molly had Stage III breast cancer. Molly needed a radical mastectomy of the left breast and, based on Elizabeth ’s history of breast cancer, also had the right breast removed. A month after the mastectomy Molly underwent intense chemotherapy treatments, radiation, and reconstruction surgery. She is a three-year survivor, currently on a hormone blocker.”

Before the two sisters were diagnosed, there had been no history of breast cancer in the Ximenez family.

Molly and Elizabeth have survived cancer, supported by faith and their belief in the power of prayer. Like many women shocked by a diagnosis of cancer, the Ximenez sisters have been active in outreach to other cancer patients. They particularly recognize the importance of reaching out to their Latina sisters. As a cancer survivor, Molly Ximenez was inspired to create The Cup With Love Project, a new, Sacramento, CA–based nonprofit organization that helps cancer survivors and those impacted by cancer through simple, random acts of kindness. Her organization provides cups that are gifted with an inspirational poem, a stone, or for men, a hat that reads “hero.” It may also include small tokens such as candy or a scarf, distributing them to cancer patients, especially those newly diagnosed.

“We discovered that language and cultural barriers exist,” says Geri. “There is a need to enhance outreach efforts not only to the Latino population but to the non–English speaking and underserved populations as well. This is an important study for the benefit of future generations. Through the sorrow and feeling of helplessness there is hope. Through the suffering and the healing we can empower others, educate, bring about change, and raise awareness.”

Read more stories