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Roxanne Martinez

During one week in 2010, Roxanne Martinez heard two very unexpected things from doctors: “You’re pregnant,” and “You have cancer.” Despite the breast cancer diagnosis and losing her dream job, she remained positive and delivered a healthy baby girl. Martinez, who discovered the lump in her left breast while getting undressed one evening, appreciates every moment with her 17-month-old daughter Serenity; 14-month-old foster son/nephew Jason; and husband Gerald Shelbon. When she’s not on mom duty, Martinez shares her inspiring journey with others. Her story was even included in the recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul – Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey.
How was your breast cancer treatment different because of the pregnancy?
My treatment wasn’t very different from other women at all. The only difference with mine was some extra precautions and monitoring the baby. My treatment was to have a mastectomy right away and then have chemo when the baby was in the second trimester.
What was that first month like?
I had my mastectomy about a month after diagnosis, on December 1. While I was out recovering, I was terminated from my job. They knew about the breast cancer but not the pregnancy. All of the time I’m [recovering I’m] assuming I’m coming back to work in two weeks. Right before the holidays, they terminated me [from my senior marketing position]. I was within the 90-day window of starting a new job, so I didn’t qualify for short-term disability or FMLA.
A lot of people rallied around you during this time. That must have helped you move forward.
The Team Roxy movement came about after I shared my story with more people. I’m a University of Florida alumna, and I was in a sorority there. One of my sorority sisters who’s in public relations took it upon herself to launch this. My brother is a web designer, so behind the scenes the two of them were building a website and planning events [to raise money to cover medical bills]. I think they did more than 20 events in 15 cities. And we sold T-shirts; we sold over 500. At the Dixie House Café, there’s a group of women my mom knows who all bought shirts and made donations. All of that kind of pushed me through.
So the pregnancy progressed just fine throughout surgery and chemo?
Initially I wasn’t gaining weight because of the chemo. I saw a nutritionist. At this point, I was going to the doctor two to three times a week. Halfway through chemo I started having contractions. The chemo was dehydrating me so much I needed to get fluids every week, and then the contractions stopped.
What’s this we hear about you doing a 5K during all of this?
I started volunteering with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I would go there and stuff envelopes and do admin work. They were gearing up for the 2011 race, so we formed a Team Roxy team. I was a runner before this, so I thought, “Sure, I can do a 5K, no problem!” Three days after my seventh round of chemo and seven months pregnant, I completed the race. I was literally waddling, but I finished. A week later they put me on bed rest, and a week after that I went into early labor. April 20, 2011 – that was the day I was scheduled for my final round of chemo. She came out with a full head of hair; I was bald.
Tell us about your daughter’s name.
We named her Serenity. Her middle name is Milagros; it’s Spanish for miracles.
So are you done with treatments?
I have not completed the reconstructive process. I had a scan a month after the baby was born, and it was clean. I didn’t have to complete chemo or do radiation. When Serenity was 6 months old, I had a preventative mastectomy [of the other breast]. From that surgery, I developed an infection that I’ve been battling for months. I’m having surgery to clear out the infection, and then I’ll have the reconstructive surgery.
Breast cancer sort of opened another career door for you. How did that come about?
While I was in treatment, I resorted back to freelance writing and taking on small marketing projects. This year I decided I didn’t want to go back to corporate work, so I formed a small marketing firm, Roxstar Marketing. My first client was the place that gave me cancer treatment, The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. I do social media and marketing. I also work with a couple of smaller agencies. So I’m able to be a work-at-home mom. I’m following a dream I once had.
And you’re doing a lot of volunteer work and breast cancer activism, right?
I volunteer with education outreach with Susan G. Komen. I also volunteer with a support group called Hope for Two [for women who have cancer and are pregnant]. Through the cancer center where I got treatment, we started a monthly breast cancer support group. It’s specifically targeting younger breast cancer survivors. Team Roxy [is also] a community organization to raise breast cancer awareness and support other women battling breast cancer. The same army of supporters that I had during my battle continues to help raise awareness and funds for cancer research. They also help me to provide “survivor bags” filled with goodies to newly diagnosed women at my local cancer center to help them get through treatment.
How has breast cancer changed you?
There’s no way it can’t change you. I’m changed physically, but I changed even more emotionally. It took a lot from me. It took my breast; it took my job. In a sense, though, it gave me way more than it took. It gave me a new appreciation for life. It has taught me how strong I truly am. It’s made me a stronger woman.
You’ve spent a lot of time in clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices. If you were in charge, how would you change the U.S. healthcare system?
I would make healthcare more accessible and affordable. And there would be fewer disparities.
Any tips for those who, like you, are without insurance?
I lost my health insurance [this summer]. I’ve had to navigate the system and become my own advocate with how I’m going to fund these surgeries. I’ve had to seek out a lot of resources. I’ve learned a lot about networking for what you need. I’ve negotiated with my surgeon, who’s doing this next surgery pro bono. I only have to pay for the facility and anesthesia, and she even got those rates down. It takes a community effort. All this has shown me what community is. I just have so much to be grateful for.
With work, being a mom and volunteering, do you have free time?
We’re really into football. My husband and I coach and are on the board for a youth league – Diamond Hill North Side Association. That’s where we spend all our time, and the babies come with us. I also work part-time at Cowboys Stadium. I worked with them through treatment; they were great about it. I do ticket sales. We also like to go to the park and the track. My daughter followed me for nearly a mile the other day.
What can young women learn from your experience with breast cancer?
Be aware of your own body. That’s the only way I found my cancer – because I was too young to have a mammogram. Always be your own health advocate. Seek out the support you need. Motherhood can be challenging.
You have such a positive attitude. How do you do it?
I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and I hope to be healthier than ever too. I chose to make it positive.
To learn more about Team Roxy, visit team-roxy.com or facebook.com/TeamRoxy1.