EVANSTON — “I never thought I would have cancer but for three months last spring I knew something was wrong because I had no energy and I am usually a very active person,” Maria Escalante of Evanston told the Uinta County Herald. “I went to the doctor and had lab works and a pap test and a breast exam but they didn’t find anything. Then one night I couldn’t sleep and when I laid on my stomach I felt a large lump in my left breast. I have always done breast self-exams and hadn’t felt it until then.”
Escalante called a local doctor about the lump and he told her to come right in. He ordered an immediate mammogram and ultrasound. After viewing the ultrasound, the radiologist told her she needed a biopsy that same day. Escalante said that was a red flag for her and she knew then it was serious.
She was referred to the Huntsman Cancer Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The first week in June she had another mammogram, an MRI and bone scans. Escalante was diagnosed with aggressive inflammatory HER2-positive breast cancer. Seven lymphnodes were also found to be cancerous. The tumor had doubled in size in a two week period, Escalante said.
Three weeks after her first visit to the doctor, Escalante started chemotherapy. She was to be given four different drugs for six rounds of chemotherapy. They found that she was severely allergic to one of the drugs, so they eliminated it. She was also sensitive to a second drug so they decreased and staggered the dosage. She was on her fourth round of chemo, which she gets every three weeks, when the Herald interviewed her. Escalante is looking forward to her last treatment of chemo on Nov. 6.
She said she will then go through all of the tests once more before having radical mastectomy and lymphovenous bypass a month later, on Dec. 7. Escalante said the lymphovenous bypass is a surgery that reduces the risk of lymphedema, a condition that causes the limbs to swell. After surgery, she will have radiation treatments every day for five weeks, and three months later she will have reconstructive surgery.
Escalante has experienced several years of struggles and problems that could have caused her to become cynical and to feel hopeless. Instead, she stays positive and says she just takes one day at a time. She said her family tries to see the silver lining in everything. She said when she told her children about the cancer, they told her she was strong and would conquer it.
Escalante has four children, two of whom are still in school. One daughter is going to college in Utah, and her other son works in Evanston. She recently sold her business, Ana’s on Main, and said she is relieved not to have to worry about work any longer. Although she has lost her hair and has been going through all of the medical treatments, Escalante still demonstrates her positive, happy, exuberant self.
“After my son Pablo’s ATV accident and now my cancer, I look at life differently,” Escalante said. “I don’t take anything for granted. My partner, Kevin Kleinsmith, and I married on June 13 in the middle of my diagnosis. We have been together five years and he has been very supportive. A gift from COVID was that Kevin, who is director of product engineering at Asurion, an insurance company, can now work out of our home so he has been able to go with me for treatments. My whole family has been wonderful. Until school started, my sister went with me, too. My mom has always been there for me, telling me to eat and taking care of me.”
Escalante said she is happy to talk about her cancer and be outspoken to create awareness for both men and women. She posts comments about her cancer journey on Instagram and hopes it opens doors for others to talk about their similar experiences. She reminds both men and women to do breast self-exams faithfully, as men also get breast cancer. Escalante said she always supported Breast Cancer Awareness Month at her business.
“Lots of people don’t want to talk about their cancer, but if I can create awareness for one person, I will be happy,” she said. “It’s a mindset; you have to get out of bed and do things you enjoy. I know there is a reason I am going through this — a gift. I’m still looking for it. I will stay positive and do what brings me joy.”