Pascoalina Dunham has been battling cancer for the last 9 years. The battle has been long and the fight has been fierce, but throughout the countless rounds of chemo and radiation therapy, she hasn’t forgotten to give back.
Pascoalina discovered she had cancer in 2007 when she found a lump in her breast while doing a self-exam. The cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes, so she underwent chemo therapy, a mastectomy, and 25 sessions of radiation. Little did she know that this was just the beginning.
Fortunately, shortly after she started treatment, she got involved with Alliance Community Services (ACS) in Salt Lake City, Utah, specifically one of their support groups for Hispanic women battling breast cancer, known as the “Triunfadoras,” meaning We Triumph. She quickly became attached to the women in the group and wanted to get further involved in the cause. In 2010 she started working with ACS to educate women about breast and cervical cancer. The program had a substantial impact on the amount of Hispanic women getting mammograms and HPV vaccines in the state of Utah.
She also became involved with a program sponsored by the Susan G. Komen foundation, “Entre Amigas,” meaning Between Friends. Pascoalina would visit women who were undergoing treatments and were unable to attend their meetings. She would offer them friendship and support with whatever they needed, whether it was helping them buy a wig, picking up medication, finding free clinics nearby, or simply having a friend to talk to. She remembers many days where she would get multiple calls from people that needed support. “When I get a call and find out someone is sick, I just go and visit them,” said Pascoalina. “I don’t need a program or grant to do that. They are my friends. They are my second family. If they’re sick, I go see them.”
Unfortunately, Pascoalina’s own fight was long from over.
In February 2015, an intense pain in her right shoulder led her to discover that the cancer was back, and with a vengeance. She had tumors in her shoulder, breast, right hip, and coccyx. She started radiation therapy, followed by oral chemo once again. When both treatments failed, she was given bimonthly shots to block the estrogen, and that seemed to work, or so they thought. Yet through all the treatments and pain, she still made it a priority to continue volunteering and visiting other women that needed her.
In June of 2016, while vacationing in her native country of Brazil, she felt a strong pain in her right arm. The pain also brought with it horrible bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Upon returning to the US, a PET scan confirmed her worst fear. The cancer was back, but this time, as the doctor showed her the scan, she saw the presence of tumors all throughout her body. There were tumors in her vertebrae, on both sides of her rib cage, in her breasts, in her shoulders, in her left hip, in her liver, in three spots in her brain, and even in her left eye.
They performed a lumbar puncture procedure to remove some of the fluid in her brain. She started chemo again and another round of shots. Nothing worked. A few weeks ago, she was given the prognosis of one year, possibly more or less depending on how she responds to treatment.
She’s taking narcotics for pain. She’s having radiation treatments in her eye, and depending on how it goes, she will then continue oral chemo. It never stops.
And yet throughout her own intense battle with cancer, her thoughts are with her three children and three grandchildren, and those women who are also struggling with cancer and whom Pascoalina has come to know and love. Although she’s unable to drive and make visits, due to her pain medication, she still calls and checks in on the women that need her support, and assists via phone as much as she can. In Pascoalina’s own words, “My mission is not completed yet. My kids still depend on me. That’s my motivation. I want to be here for them, for my grandchildren, and for my friends; for the women out there who need some emotional support; that need someone they can count on.”
A few days ago, Alliance received an award for their support group “Triunfadoras.” Who did the company select to receive the award on their behalf? Pascoalina. The woman who has given so much of her time to help others, even amidst her own battle.
Pascoalina continues to fight. She’s hoping some of the pain will subside so she can continue her mission of enjoying her family and supporting the women that need her. Cancer or no cancer, she’ll never give up on the people that matter to her.
Note: We are grateful to Noel, our blog writer, who was able to meet with Pascoalina over the phone. Pascoalina has worked with CommGap for 13 years and has been an important part of our interpreting team. She is universally respected and loved by us and our clients. Our thoughts are with her and her family during this difficult time. She is truly a courageous woman.