Isabel Rios-Besosa doesn't talk much about her experience with breast cancer. It's a subject that she hasn't even brought up with some of her family members.
But the 60-year-old cancer survivor from Dumont, NJ, decided to share her experience with a crowd gathered in front of Nyack Hospital's Breast Center on Monday for a rally designed to raise awareness of breast cancer and urge women to seek preventative screening.
"It's not something that I talk about. I'm private that way," said Rios-Besosa, a patient of the Nyack Hospital Breast Center and Dr. Patricia Joseph, director of Breast and Women’s Health Prevention Services at Nyack Hospital.
But Rios-Besosa, a retired educator, said she agreed to Joseph's invitation to speak at the rally because she has become a firm believer that too many women neglect their own health as they focus on ensuring their spouce, children or other family members get the proper care that they need.
"My health was not a priority," said Rios-Besosa of her own experience with cancer. "I made sure that everybody went to their doctors visits, that everybody had their check ups. But I did not take care of myself. As much as I knew about mammograms and early detection, I did not apply that knowledge to myself. I was too busy, too tired — and besides, I walked every day, I ate well ... and nothing would happen to me."
Rios-Besosa says she considers herself lucky because preventative screening that she did take advantage of saved her life. A mammogram discovered a small object which was benign, however, it turned out that object was hiding cancerous tissue that was only discovered through surgery.
"I am here today, talking to you as a breast cancer survivor and in good health because I had an overdue mammogram which dedicted something too small to be detected by me or my doctors during breast examinations," Rios-Besosa said. "My guardian angels were truly watching over me."
As a symbol of the success that Rios-Besosa and other women have had fighting cancer, the group gathered at the rally at the corner of Route 9W and Sickles Avenue planted 308 pink pinwheels — one for each of the survivors treated at the Nyack Breast Center — in a section of lawn manicured to take on the shape of a breast cancer ribbon.
One-by-one, participants at the "Blow Away Breast Cancer" rally planted pinwheels and then watched as the field of pinwheels began to spin in the light breeze.
"Early detection is the key," Dr. Joseph told the rally. "The pinwheels are a very visible reminder to blow away cancer. Early screening is what's going to make the difference in the fight against breast cancer."
As Dr. Joseph spoke about the symbolism of the pinwheels, she explained that a major effort to fight breast cancer is needed because of the large number of women it affects. Looking out at the crowd at the rally, she asked how many of them either had someone in their family affected by breast cancer or who had a friend affected by the illness. Most in the crowd raised a hand indicating that they had been touched by breast cancer.
Want to make a donation to help fight breast cancer? Check out blowawaybreastcancer.org.