A Wake-Up Call From Cancer

Donna Gutierrez, a home mortgage broker in Virginia, was living the fast life. A single mother with two grown children, she barely ate anything and kept long hours at work. “I lived off of coffee and cigarettes,” Gutierrez admits. Her hectic, commission-based job left her with no time for friends and barely enough time for family. “It didn’t mean anything to me to work 12 to 14 or even 16 hours a day.” The self-described workaholic hadn’t taken a vacation in eight years.

But in December of 2006, all that changed when she performed her routine breast self-exam. “I found a palpable lump,” she says.  A week later, she found herself celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve wondering about the results of the biopsy. “Both kids were home for the holidays,” Gutierrez recalls, “I kept a happy face on.”

In early January of 2007, the results were confirmed: Donna Gutierrez had cancer. But she handled the diagnosis well. “I never cried,” Gutierrez remembers. “I said ‘okay — what’s the solution here?’”

But when her health care provider suggested that she change her lifestyle and “slow down a bit,” Gutierrez was shocked. “That upset me more than being told I had cancer!”

Gutierrez had a lumpectomy. When she was about to start chemotherapy — she knew she was going to lose her long blonde hair, so she took an aggressive approach and had her hair cut really short. By the time her chemotherapy had finished in June and her 32 rounds of radiation were completed in August, Gutierrez had decided to make some major changes in her life.

Today, slightly more than a year after her cancer treatments ended, Gutierrez calls her cancer diagnosis “a spiritual awakening.”

“It really reprioritized everything for me,” she says. “I hadn’t been taking care of myself and cancer was a wake-up call.”

“When you’re in your 20s and 30s you think you’re invincible, nothing is ever going to happen to you,” Gutierrez says — but now, at age 52, she’s taking precautions for a healthier life.

Gutierrez quit smoking and is trying to eat more healthy foods — no longer grabbing fast food on her way home from work. “I allow myself to rest and not feel guilty,” she admits. “I’ve learned that I can still be as productive and spend less time doing work. I’ve created new friends… I’ve discovered another dimension to life that’s better than what I had.”