story BY: CHARLES A. COULOMBE
Amelia Tena is a volunteer at City of Hope, specializing in mentoring and advising Spanish-speaking cancer patients. At what is often a painful and confusing time, she guides them through the array of services and procedures they are faced with. It is terrain she knows well: Amelia herself first came to City of Hope nine years ago as a breast cancer patient.
“I was frightened and very, very tired. I had been diagnosed with it a year earlier, and had treated it with chemotherapy. Then it recurred. In my native country, I had helped a sister and a good friend with breast cancer. But even though you try to help them, you try to reassure them, you can’t really know what it is like until you have it yourself.” She did research, and discovered City of Hope. “As soon as I arrived, they took care of me. The staff and doctors guided me through every step of the process. They were reassuring and compassionate – and they knew what they were doing.” With their help, Amelia recovered, and was so inspired by her treatment that she started volunteering her services with Spanish speaking patients. “It is so important to receive information in your own language so that you know exactly what is going on and can also let your doctors know what is happening. Our community in particular really needs to know about cancer and how to prevent it. Because some cancer treatment is costly, a lot of Latinos and African Americans do not get the care they need to recover.”
In addition to her work at City of Hope, Amelia’s experience with cancer has changed her life in many ways. “I eat differently – more fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish, and less meat, because of the hormones.” She exercises regularly, does tai chi, and walks a lot more. Amelia believes that prevention, through a healthier lifestyle, is absolutely key to fighting cancer – an attitude she learned at City of Hope. She also learned to worry less. “I don’t worry about things I can’t help.” This, she says, is very important.
Tena also learned that City of Hope is very much like a family. “The doctors and staff always let you know that you are not alone. And they are at the forefront of research, always learning new ways of fighting cancer.” City of Hope provides a wide range of charitable options for the uninsured and the underinsured, providing as much treatment as their resources allow. “It is a terrible thing when healthcare seems to be just a matter of money. You never get that impression with City of Hope.”
The comprehensive cancer center includes the patient’s family as much as possible in the healing process. This is particularly important for Latino patients. Spanish speaking counselors like Amelia make sure that both the patient and loved ones are informed every step of the way. It’s that familial approach to treatment that Amelia likes about the hospital’s way of doing things.
“When you are first diagnosed with cancer, it is very important to get a second opinion. The sooner you start treatment, the less invasive it is likely to be. The earlier you begin breast cancer treatment, for example, the less likely it is that you’ll need a mastectomy.”
“Above all”, Amelia says, “take care of yourself. Live a healthy lifestyle. Get regular checkups – don’t wait on any of it.” In addition to cutting down on stress, she advises people to “look after your soul.”