Latina Cancer Survivor Makes a Career of Helping Others with Cancer

Olga CardonaA wave of shock swept over Olga Cardona as she listened to her doctor.

“You have breast cancer.”

Cardona knew nothing about cancer. She thought it was a death sentence. She was scared. She worried more when her insurance wouldn’t cover all chemotherapy.

How could this be happening to me?

A patient navigator calmed her fears.

The navigator, a trained community health worker, taught Cardona what cancer is, got her in a breast cancer support group, and led her to resources to cover her treatment.

Cardona, years later, now is in remission—and she became a promotora to promote health at the San Ysidro Health Center in California, where she was first diagnosed.

“I wanted to pay it forward because I felt so grateful to everyone that had helped me through my battle,” Cardona said. “There are many other women like me, and they deserve to know that they can survive cancer, too.”

Cardona works with patients, provides education through focus groups and interviews, and implements study-based breast cancer risk reduction and nutrition curricula.

Cardona’s work is supported by the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, as part of its Redes En Acción project (via the National Cancer Institute) and studies funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

“My role is to educate people about breast cancer, early detection, risk factors, resources, etc.,” she said. “But most importantly, to teach that cancer is not a death sentence. Help is available.”

Cardona knows that many border-area Latinas avoid the clinic.

Women here don’t ask for resources, don’t come in for screenings or exams, and if they feel sick, they cross the border for medical help, she said.

“This is when promotoras’ work becomes valuable to educate people about resources and meet their needs,” Cardona said.

Cardona has helped many women through her work at the clinic, said Sandra San Miguel de Majors, a researcher at the IHPR and Redes En Acción.

“Olga is just what a promotora should be—passionate and dedicated to making a huge difference in the lives of clinic patients,” San Miguel said.

Cardona is just happy to help Latinas the same way her promotora helped her.

“When I run into people that I provided information to at community events or that participated in my classes, they tell me that they are making changes to improve their health and are now attending regular doctor visits that also include their family,” Cardona said. “This makes me feel like I am doing things right and continues to give me the motivation to do what I do.”