Maria Dulce’s cancer journey began in January 2016, when she was doing a breast self-exam. After her sister Maria Teresa was diagnosed with breast cancer and sadly passed away, Maria Dulce went diligently for yearly mammograms and performed monthly self-exams. This time, she noticed something felt different.
After she booked an appointment with her family doctor in Grande Cache, she was transferred to the Grande Prairie Hospital for a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and biopsy. “I drove home convinced I had cancer,” she said.
A few days later, Maria Dulce’s doctor called and asked her to come in to talk about the results. They urged her to not come alone.
When the call was over, Maria Dulce felt like she was having an out-of-body experience. She went to look for her husband Bill who worked in the same office building, and waited for him to finish his meeting so they could leave together.
When they got to the clinic, the doctor confirmed the news Maria Dulce had been dreading: ‘Yes, you have cancer.’
“Beyond that, I don’t think I heard anything else they said,” said Maria Dulce. “From that day, I felt like I was put on this really fast roller coaster and had no control.”
She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which meant the next steps would be surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
When it came time to stay in Edmonton for radiation treatment, a nurse navigator suggested Sorrentino’s Compassion House. “We were welcomed with open arms,” Maria Dulce said. “The House was a peaceful haven.”
Thankfully, Maria Dulce’s husband was able to stay with her and work remotely while she went through treatment. Even though she never felt pressured to share her story or befriend the other guests, the supportive nature of the House made it easy.
“Because of the aura around the House, and knowing we were all going through something similar, everybody was more than willing to share their story and be there for each other,” she said.
During her stay, Maria Dulce bonded with some of the other ladies over crochet and knitting, and they enjoyed cooking meals together in the kitchen. With the Cross Cancer Institute closeby, Maria Dulce would sometimes walk to appointments with other guests when they were able.
“We had the cancer experience in common, but it wasn’t our focus every single minute of the day,” she said. “We found other things to pass the time that brought happiness to us.”
“I will never forget those women; the ones who are now gone, as well,” said Maria Dulce. “Their impact is going to stay with me forever.”
When Maria Dulce returned home to Grande Cache, it wasn’t easy to adjust to life post-treatment. “After treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, there’s no follow-up, just: ‘Go out and live your healthy life,’” she said. “When I got pulled off of that rollercoaster I was on, I felt like I was lost.”
“I started to grow my hair, and I looked ‘normal’ but I didn’t feel ‘normal.’ There was nothing ‘normal’ about me anymore,” said Maria Dulce. “I wasn’t the same as before. I was a new ‘normal’ but I hadn’t quite figured out what that was.”
When Maria Dulce learned there were nearly a dozen other women in her community who had also been through the cancer journey, she realized they all shared the same feeling: there was a lack of ongoing support once treatment was over.
In 2017, Maria Dulce decided to reach out to the Cancer Society and went through training to start a peer support group for anyone in Grande Cache going through the cancer journey.
She has also since become an Ambassador for Compassion House Foundation, helping spread the impact of our cause to those in her community.
“I can’t express how blessed I feel that I’m still here, because I know there are many that aren’t,” Maria Dulce said. “Twenty-two years later, I still miss my sister. I feel that void and wish she was still here.”
“You hear the sayings ‘life is a present’ and ‘live for the moment because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow’ — they take on a stronger meaning after cancer. It brings a bigger appreciation for life, your family, and the people around you.”
Maria Dulce is grateful for the chance to watch her five grandchildren grow up, and to retire with her husband in the next few years. “All of the things I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see back in February of 2016.”
Thanks to donor support, Sorrentino’s Compassion House is able to continue to ease the distress of the cancer journey for women like Maria Dulce. “Having to leave your community for anywhere from three to eight weeks, depending on the type of treatment, that’s a long time to be away,” she said. “If a donor can provide one night’s stay, or a month’s stay, it relieves that stress for someone that’s already going through an extremely stressful medical journey.”
“It’s a gift beyond measure.”