‘Please don’t count me out’
Mayra Eduardo has a recurring nightmare: There is a woman out there with stage 4 metastatic terminal cancer. A doctor tells her it’s too late. It has spread too far. There is nothing that can be done.
Just like what happened to her.
“I have a nightmare that some doctor will turn her away, tell her she only has two to three months to live,” Eduardo said. “And because they think they cannot help her, they just send her home.”
It’s her dream, on the other hand, to send a message of hope and resilience to other women experiencing a terminal diagnosis.
“Get a second or a third opinion,” she said. “Don’t give up. I feel like there are a lot of cases like me out there. If I didn’t have that determination to go to another doctor, I wouldn’t be here today.”
While living in Florida in 2013, Eduardo began experiencing flu-like symptoms.
“I was having body ache, fever and I was having a pain in my chest,” said Eduardo, now 44. “I was coughing and felt like I had the flu.”
She had a mammogram the following Monday. Red flags went up when she saw she was being treated differently than other women.
“In Florida, everyone gets a flower when they get a mammogram and everything is OK,” Eduardo said. “Instead of getting a flower, the technician put me in a room all by myself. I kind of knew there was something going on right then.”
Later, when she took a shower at home, she performed a self breast exam.
“I could feel it with my hands,” she said of what would soon be revealed as a tumor, about the size of a lemon, in her right breast.
The following Friday, she got the official diagnosis.
Instead of getting down, something stirred up inside of me. All that came to my mind was the story of David and Goliath. I said, ‘I want to be David.’
“It wasn’t shocking, but what was shocking was that it was so big,” she said. “What I didn’t know at that moment was that it had already metastasized to the lymph nodes, to the lungs, to the bones.”
Upon receiving the news, she packed her bags and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be closer to family.
The aggressive metastatic cancer fed off her hormones to spread and grow, like a creature gone wild in a “Little Shop of Horrors” stage play.
But this was no act. Instead, a tragedy waiting to happen in a real-life drama.
A PET scan illuminated the antagonist in her lymph nodes, lungs, breast bone and, later, her femur.
“I didn’t want to think about it because it was going to make me cry,” she said. “The first oncologist I saw, he told me that I was at a stage that there was not even a point in treating me with chemotherapy. Why waste my time because I was not going to make it?”
The doctor likened her cancer to an X-Men comic.
“He said in the X-Men, there are these mutants,” she said. “Their cells mutate and they learn different gadgets. He said that’s how my cancer is. He said no matter how many times you cut out the cancer, the cancer comes back.”
In that moment of being told life’s final grains of sand were trickling through the hour glass—that the antagonist would emerge victorious, sword in hand at the end of her fight—something changed inside her.
She can’t explain it, really.
But she felt it reverberate in her soul.
“When he said that, instead of getting down, something stirred up inside of me,” she recalled. “All that came to my mind was the story of David and Goliath. Something gave me the strength to tell him I didn’t know much about the X-Men, but I knew about the story of David and Goliath.
“I said, ‘I want to be David.’ And I walked out.”
Fight the giant
“I told Dr. Melnik that I saw this person on TV,” Eduardo recalled. “He had cancer in 98 percent of his body and I saw him on TV throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game. He’s cured. I said to her, ‘Please don’t count me out. I want to have the same opportunities to fight for my life.’”
And so the fight bell rang.
A scared but determined patient and a skilled and confident doctor versus a ravaging disease that had now spread to her leg bones.
“In one day she set up an aggressive treatment plan trying to save my life,” Eduardo said. “After my third chemo session, the (breast) tumor started to shrink.”
Following six more harsh chemotherapy sessions, the tumor disappeared and the cancer in her sternum started to shrink.
She underwent a right breast mastectomy in January 2014, followed by 30 days of radiation, every day. Since her type of cancer feeds off estrogen, Dr. Melnik also removed Eduardo’s ovaries.
But later that month, another tumor showed up on her chest wall.
“Dr. Melnik said, ‘This is treatable, we can do this,’” Eduardo said. “I went back to the operating room. When she took it out, it was big, but thank God it wasn’t a threat to the course of my treatment.”
In July, she had a second mastectomy, followed by targeted chemotherapy.
Believe in miracles
“The cancer started disappearing with the first round of chemo,” Eduardo said. “The target therapy targets where the tumor was. It keeps attacking the area.”
By October 2015, her lymph nodes, lungs and sternum were cancer-free.
“I’m cured,” she said. “It’s been a long journey, but I think it was my destiny to go through it because the Lord thought I could make it through.”
This experience has given Eduardo more purpose in her life.
“I wake up happy,” she said. “I appreciate every second of life, every minute, every hour. I’m gracious for it and thankful.”
Eduardo said she feels the whole experience was God-driven, from her diagnosis to her David-like mentality that slew the giant tumors.
“I had a connection with God and I think the Lord empowered the doctors to make a miracle happen,” she said. “To be honest, I don’t know any other way to explain it. I think God put the right strangers in my path, like Dr. Melnik and all her team.”
Her care team is thrilled Eduardo is doing so well.
“Due to her persistence in refusing to believe her breast cancer was a death sentence, she sought myself and my team out,” Dr. Melnik said. “She had metastatic breast cancer and a very large primary breast cancer in her right breast. With targeted therapy, she has had a complete response.”
Eduardo said she is alive because of Dr. Melnik.
“She cares so deeply for all her patients and she tries so hard to help every patient,” Eduardo said. “I have no words to describe the gratitude I feel for her not giving up on me.
“This is not just my victory—this is her victory and her whole team’s victory,” she said. “This wasn’t just good luck. It was the hard work of a lot of people.”
Eduardo, who loves to cook, took a page from her recipe book—a tried and true recipe for those facing medical challenges or any difficult times in life.
“Stay positive every day, laugh it off, dance, surround yourself with positive-thinking people and shut down all that pessimism out there,” Eduardo said. “Surround yourself with those that make you happy every day. That’s really important.”