Special Reports

Monica Blanco-Etheridge: 'Cancer never entered my mind'

Monica Blanco-Etheridge said she was raised like a lot of Hispanic women, believing doctors are always right.

When she was 18, she trusted her family doctor when he said the tiny lump she discovered was probably just a cyst and nothing to worry about. He never ordered tests.

At 35, she noticed the lump had grown.

Her husband, Mark, convinced her to get it checked.

It was cancer and had likely been growing for 17 years.

"Cancer never entered my mind," she said.

Treatment consumed her life for eight months.

The high-dose chemotherapy made her sick and her hair fall out.

Her husband, family and prayer -- she's a devoted Catholic -- helped her cope.

Blanco-Etheridge worried about her family. She had six sisters she thought might share her fate.

Her mother was devastated.

But she has some pleasant memories, like when she and her sister, Pat, went to shop for a wig to cover her bald head and nearly all the other sisters showed up to meet them.

And there's her dog, Paco Etheridge, the runt Chihuahua she got during treatment. He was missing his tail.

She took it as a sign they were meant to be together: "I didn't have hair and he didn't have a tail."

Cancer brought new meaning to Blanco-Etheridge's job -- helping the poor get health care.

"For me, it made me become outspoken. ... It's really critical to educate ethnic women about breast cancer."