Survivor using Spanish to help others cheat death
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 22, 2005

Mel MelÚndez
When Dora Solano felt a mass in her breast in 2003, she delayed seeing a doctor because in her "heart" she knew that it was "nothing."

But she was wrong. A year later, Solano, now 45, learned she had breast cancer. What's more, it had spread to her lymph nodes, and Solano would have to undergo a mastectomy and chemotherapy to save her life.

"It was scary because I had a 4-year-old son," said Solano, who lives in Peoria. "I turned for support to the American Cancer Society, but most of their volunteers only spoke English. That's when I vowed if I made it through that I would help other Spanish-speaking women."

True to her word, the breast cancer survivor trained under the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery Program to help convince Latinas that they should get mammograms and offer phone support to women before, during and after treatment.

One of a handful of bilingual Spanish-speaking volunteers, Solano annually helps about a dozen Valley women. Her phone has been ringing a lot during the past few weeks because of the bilingual advertisements highlighting October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"As Latinas, we often put the needs of our families before our own health," said Solano, a homemaker. "But sometimes later is too late, so we need to change that mind set if we want to stay healthy."

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths, after lung cancer, among U.S. women, health groups say.

But while mammograms are the best form of early detection, about 13 million women 40 or older have never had one. The five-year survival rate for those detected early is 96 percent. But in Arizona, about 37 percent of Latinas, Blacks and Native Americans are diagnosed late, compared with 26 percent of White women, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Various factors, including culture, language and lack of health insurance, often contribute to the problem," said Meg Kondrich, spokeswoman for the cancer society. "That's why the support from minority cancer survivors is so important. Because these women are just like them, and they've walked a mile in their shoes."

Initially, many of Solano's clients are reticent about sharing their stories and concerns. But once they learn she's a cancer survivor, the scenario changes, she said.

"It gives them hope to know that I went through what they're facing and made it through," she added.

"Whatever stage they're in, I try to reassure them that they can beat this, because I did," Solano said. "They need to know that they can have a full life. Then my work is done."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8212.