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Q&A With A Jefa: Alejandra Campoverdi Talks About Her Decision To Have A Double Mastectomy

Alejandra Campoverdi is a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation. The former White House aide to President Barack Obama and advocate for women’s health issues learned the news after spending a lifetime of seeing the women in her family pass away from breast cancer. First, there was her great-grandmother who died soon after her birth and then her grandmother who passed away when she was 16. While Campoverdi was in her twenties, she watched as her mother battled against her breast cancer diagnosis (she ultimately survived) and just last year, her aunt was given the same diagnosis. A destructive genetic trait linked the women in her family together, but it wasn’t until 2013 when Campoverdi was tested for the trait that she learned the mutation put her at an 85 percent risk of developing breast cancer.

This month, coincidentally at the same time women and men across the country campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness, Campoverdi will be undergoing a preventive double mastectomy. The procedure will reduce her risk of contracting breast cancer by at least 95 percent.

FIERCE spoke with Campoverdi about her decision to be proactive about her health now and what her upcoming surgery means to her as far as freedom and understanding her womanhood.

Q: How at risk did doctors say you were for getting breast cancer before your double mastectomy?

A: Right now, my risk of developing breast cancer over my lifetime is 85 percent. After one surgery, it will go down to under 3 percent.

Q: What have your doctors told you about the results of your surgery and the chances it will give you?

acampoverdi / Instagram

A: If someone told me in the past that one day I would chose to remove my two healthy breasts, I would have never believed them. But when I realized that undergoing a preventive double mastectomy would lower my risk of developing breast cancer from 85 percent to under 3 percent, it was a no-brainer for me. My great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and two aunts have all had breast cancer so given my family history and my own predisposition as a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation, I felt it was all but certain that I would eventually have to battle the disease myself. To be clear, this is a very personal decision with no blanket right or wrong answer. Each woman must decide for herself what the pros and cons of surveillance versus surgery are. For me, it has been an empowering decision to take my health into my own hands.

Q:  What surgical process will you undergo to ensure your health in the next few months?

A: I have already started the surgical process and actually have my mastectomy incisions as we speak. The first step was a “nipple delay”, which was performed by my breast surgeon Dr. Kristi Funk on September 24. A nipple delay, usually done about two weeks prior to a nipple-sparing mastectomy, involves severing the blood vessels beneath the nipples so that they are no longer dependent on the breast tissue for blood supply. By forcing trauma on the area, you are essentially helping your nipples survive the mastectomy. They get used to finding an alternate blood supply, which then decreases the chance of necrosis. This procedure is not included by every surgeon but I agreed with Dr. Funk that taking this extra precautionary step was worth it in my case. My double mastectomy follows on October 10.

Q: Why are you having a double mastectomy done now?

A: Once you’ve decided you will undergo a preventive double mastectomy, there’s still the question of when exactly is the right time. Again, this is a very personal decision and one that should be done in consultation with your doctor. In my case, my doctor recommended I proceed with surgery when I was ten years younger than my mother was when she developed breast cancer. This is that year.

Q: What are your plans after surgery? Have you decided whether or not you will have breast reconstruction surgery?

acampoverdi / Instagram

A: There are many options for breast reconstruction, and some people choose to forego it all together. I chose direct to implant reconstruction, after consultation with my doctors. Because of my body type and other factors, I am a good candidate for this method and I like the idea of reducing the number of surgeries I’ll need. If all goes as planned, when I wake up from my mastectomy, I will already be on the other side of my breast reconstruction. It’s incredible to think that I’ll be able to go under with my natural breasts and wake up to my reconstructed breasts.

Q: How has your Latinidad and the lessons from the Latinas in your life helped you to find strength during this time?

A: When I first found out I was BRCA positive, I had a long car ride home alone to think about it. I was overwhelmed by many emotions, including an unexpected feeling of connectedness with the generations of women in my family who have battled breast cancer. I am the third generation who has shared not only an incremental immigrant bloodline, but also emotional inheritances related to this bloodline – as Latinas, as survivors, and as fighters. I can feel the deep faith and grit of my ancestors within me and beside me during this time. Yet seeing our community struggle today with a lack of access to quality healthcare, preventive screening, and other disparities in women’s health, made this experience feel a lot bigger than just me. This is why I have founded The Well Woman Coalition, an initiative to empower women of color to have agency over their own health and healing through awareness, education, and advocacy. Many advocacy efforts around women’s health lack diversity and cultural competency. The importance of early detection when it comes to breast cancer cannot be overstated. Yet there are many health disparities that women of color face which present barriers to early detection. Many women of color lack access to preventive screening and treatment options which contribute to the fact that they’re more likely to be diagnosed with cancer in advanced stages. As a Latina, I understand firsthand the deep need for cultural considerations when addressing the health care needs of diverse and multicultural communities, and I am committed to helping to close that gap.

Q: What are your most immediate plans for self-care after your mastectomy?

A: I’m not the type of person who will push myself to do more than I can right away so I’ll be staying down and off the grid for a bit. It’s important to give ourselves permission to heal and process at our own pace so that’s what I’ll be doing in the immediate aftermath of my mastectomy. Once I’m back on my feet, I look forward to exercising again – I miss spinning and hiking already! And since I’ll be coming out of my recovery around the holidays, I’d love to plan a celebration trip somewhere warm to just lay on the beach, eat ceviche, and feel grateful for the strength of my body, the support of my friends and family, and the medical advances that made this extraordinary journey possible.

Q: What has this entire process told you about what it means to be a woman?

acampoverdi / Instagram

A: I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with my breasts throughout this process yet one message has been central to my experience as we reach our final goodbye. Our femininity is defined by much more than our body parts and our beauty. Our courage, our grit, and our soul are what make up our worth as women. Losing our breasts or altering our breasts won’t take that away or change anything fundamental about our feminine power. We are whole – with or without breasts. Always have been and always will be.


Read: We Exist: On Resilience, Rainbow Babies, and La Raza

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Are You A Victim Of Abuse? Use This Checklist To Help You Determine The Truth

Calladitas No More

Are You A Victim Of Abuse? Use This Checklist To Help You Determine The Truth

There are three ways that abuse can be identified. By the way your partner treats you physically, by the way they treat you emotionally, and by how you feel about the relationship. This checklist of twenty signs of abuse is one tool that you can use to see if you, or someone you know, is a victim of abuse. And remember, more resources for dealing with abuse can be found by calling The National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 799 7233.

1. They have grabbed you and refused to let go.

gabkaphoto / Instagram

This falls into the category of physical abuse. No-one should grab you to make you feel threatened and unsafe. No-one.

2. They have pulled your hair.

Instagram: @theerinblythedavis

This is another form of physical abuse. Sure, a bit of hair pulling in the act of passion is fine. But when it happens as part of an argument, or when your partner is deliberately trying to hurt you or make you feel threatened, that is abuse.

3. They have thrown things at you and/or destroyed your belongings.

Instagram: @beatfreak1996

One way your significant other may try to control you is through your belongings. Throwing things at you and destroying your belongings is designed to hurt you physically and emotionally. Threatening to do so also falls under this category of behavior, too.

4. They have left you with bruises, black eyes, bleeding, and/or broken bones.

Instagram: @veeegooose

While abuse doesn’t necessarily have to leave marks on your body, a sure sign of physical abuse in your relationship is when your partner does leave marks. Research shows that once it happens the first time, a “threshold” of sorts has been crossed, and an abuser is more likely to hurt their partner again.

5. They have threatened to hurt or kill you.

Instagram: @raquelitt

It may not seem like abuse, since there are no physical marks left from a threat to hurt or kill you. However, these threats are still part of the arsenal of tools that abusers use. How? Because these threats are designed to control your behavior, and make you feel powerless. Abuse in a relationship is about the abuser gaining and maintaining power, and death threats are a way of emotionally controlling you.

6. They have threatened to take your children away or harm them.

Instagram: @stephaniemaurasanchez

Even if you have children together, children shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip in your relationship. Even more importantly, your children’s safety is non-negotiable: no partner of yours should threaten it. By the way, this doesn’t just apply to children. Pets can also be used to manipulate and control you in a relationship.

7. They have forced you to have sex.

Instagram: @jennylikesjewellery

Sex is not a “duty” to be fulfilled in a loving, equal relationship. Nor should your partner guilt trip or manipulate you into participating in sex acts after you have refused sex. Consent needs to be freely given! It doesn’t matter how long the two of you have been together. Otherwise, it’s classed as sexual assault.

8. They try to control you and treat you like a child.

Instagram: @silvia_almanza

Abusive relationships are about control and power. Part of treating you like a child is making you feel like you don’t have any control in the relationship, or even your life, so that you continue to stay and endure the abuse.

9. They make you feel like you need permission to make decisions or go somewhere.

Instagram: @kreeturefeature

This applies when you feel like you have to text at every moment to update your partner about where you are. And when you can’t spend time with friends or family without getting permission from your partner. This is because abusers commonly try to isolate their partner from other, platonic relationships with other people.

10. They try to take complete control of the finances and how you spend money.

Instagram: @loudmouthbruja

Controlling how money is earned and spent is known as financial abuse. People suffering from this type of abuse are commonly denied access to money by partners for doing simple tasks like grocery shopping. Or, sometimes the abuser decides whether and when their partner is allowed to work.

11. They cannot admit to being wrong.

Instagram: @abs_ter

Part of being in a respectful and loving relationship is being able to say sorry and to admit fault. An abusive partner refuses to apologise, because doing so would threaten their position of power in their relationship.

12. They accuse you of things that you know are not true.

Instagram: @estephaniaabarca

This is about control, and manipulating you. After all, if you’re spending your time trying to prove your innocence, then you’re not going to spend your time planning to leave the relationship, are you?

13. They do not take responsibility for their behavior.

Instagram: @lu.pazmi

The reality is, it’s not too much to ask someone to take responsibility for their behavior – even more so when it’s someone you’re in a relationship with. However, your partner doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior because doing so would threaten their position of power in the relationship.

14. They use “The Silent Treatment” to get their way.

Instagram: @yappaririri

Chances are you may have experienced “The Silent Treatment” before, in elementary school. And that’s where that behavior should stay. An equal, loving relationship is not built on one person using silence to manipulate the other person into conceding a point.

15. They make subtle threats or negative remarks about you.

Instagram: @noshophotography

Of course, there’s always room for some friendly sledging in a loving, respectful relationship. But, it turns into abuse when your partner does this on a regular basis to frighten, or control you. It’s possible they may even pass it off as a “joke”, or say that you’re “overreacting”. But again, if you’re in a loving relationship, then your partner should respect the fact that you’re hurt by a “joke”. They should not continue to make these types of comments.

16. You feel scared about how your significant other will act.

Instagram: @erikakardol

Repeat after us: you should have no reason to fear your partner in a loving, respectful relationship. You should have no reason to fear your partner in a loving, respectful relationship.

17. You feel that you can help your partner to change their behavior.

Instagram: @amnesia.r

But, only if you have changed something about yourself first.

18. You watch your behavior carefully so that you do not start a conflict in your relationship.

Instagram: @cmirandads

An abuser does not abuse all of the time. They maintain a cycle of abuse in the relationship. Things go from being tense, where you feel like you have to watch your own actions, to an incident which involves verbal, emotional, financial and physical abuse. Then, your partner attempts reconciliation or denies the abuse occurred, and the relationship goes into a calm stage. However, tensions will begin to build before long, starting the cycle once again.

19. You stay with your partner because you are afraid of what they would do if you broke up.

Instagram: @msstefniv

In other words, you feel trapped in your relationship because of your partner’s current, or potential, behavior. This can range from hurting you, your kids, your pets, your friends, and your family. Or, destroying your belongings, compromising access to your finances, or hurting themselves.

20. They don’t pass “The No Test”

Instagram: @kaitlyn_laurido

“The No Test” is pretty simple. Observe what happens the next time you tell your partner “no”. This could be in response to being asked out on a date, or maybe doing them a simple favor. Disappointment is a normal response to being told “no.”  However, pure outrage, violence, and/or emotional manipulation is not a reasonable response, and may indicate an abusive relationship.

If you feel that you are experiencing an abusive relationship, please seek help. Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 799 7233 for assistance. Please take care if you feel that your internet or mobile phone device use is being monitored.

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A Group Of Primarily Female Mexican Scientists Discovered A Potential Cure For HPV

things that matter

A Group Of Primarily Female Mexican Scientists Discovered A Potential Cure For HPV

“If you’re having sex, you’ll likely contract HPV at some point in your life.” That is how one gynecologist explained the sexually transmitted diseases to me, which completely freaked me out. Even though human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus contracted through sexual intercourse, it doesn’t make it less scary when you realize that it’s related to 150 viruses and can lead to cancer for both men and women. While there are vaccines available to prevent the spread of HPV to a broader age group than in previous years, we are finally closer to finding a cure.

A group of primarily female Mexican scientists at the National Polytechnic Institute cured their patients of HPV.

Twitter/@StephDenisse

The team of researchers, led by Dr. Eva Ramos Gallegos (pictured above), treated 420 patients from Veracruz and Oaxaca, and 29 from Mexico City. They used “photodynamic therapy” which “is a treatment that involves using a drug, called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and a particular type of light to treat different areas of the body” according to their report.

The doctors found extraordinary results through their method of treatment that led to cure 100 percent of the people that had HPV. They also cured 64.3 percent of people infected with HPV that had cancerous cells, and 57.2 percent of people that had cancerous cells without the HPV virus. That last result could mean that a cure for cancer is not far behind.

“Unlike other treatments, it only eliminates damaged cells and does not affect healthy structures. Therefore, it has great potential to decrease the death rate from cervical cancer,” Dr. Gallegos told Radio Guama.

People on social media ecstatically hailed the finding by the Mexicana researchers.

We highly doubt President Trump will ever mention this achievement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to comment on this remarkable finding.

While there’s more testing that will inevitably take place, we will have to wait and see how long it takes for other researchers and scientists to catch on to their method of treatment.

The fact that a woman-led team discovered this cure is something we should all be applauding.

Hopefully, their research will get more funding so they can further test patients and help educate others about their process.

According to the CDC,  79 million Americans, primarily teens and people in the early 20s, are infected with HPV. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The way to prevent contracting HPV is by getting the vaccine — available for males and females — and by using condoms. However, you can still contract HPV because HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not adequately protect against getting HPV.

READ: Here Are A Handful Of Reasons Why We Need To Talk To Latinx Kids About S-E-X

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