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Honored for being a friend to strangers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dalila Romero had no one to sit with her when she went through her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment almost 20 years ago.

ROMERO: Remembered being alone at doctor’s

ROMERO: Remembered being alone at doctor’s

Romero, a co-founder of Comadre a Comadre more than 10 years ago, makes sure women with breast cancer referred to her program are not alone: “I actually go to the first appointment with them. I sit with them and put myself in their place. I’m asking questions for them, like what is their diagnosis, what is the treatment and what’s going to happen next?” This week, much as any other, Romero sat in medical appointments with five women.

On Saturday, the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation will recognize Romero’s dedication and advocacy with a Spirit of Hope award at their 25th Annual Celebration of Hope Luncheon and Conference, with University of New Mexico Cancer Center, UNM Health Science Center and UNM Hospital as the presenting sponsor.

Since 1992, the award has been presented to exceptional individuals who have made a significant contribution to the fight against breast cancer, according to the foundation.

The Comadre a Comadre program at the UNM College of Education provides community-based advocacy, education and information about breast health and breast cancer to hundreds of women in the Hispanic community, Romero explains. She adds while the program is designed to support the language and cultural needs of Latinas, they try to help anyone who calls them.

Comadres in Spanish-speaking communities are friends who support each other and become like family.

Like many women, Romero, 67, a certified breast cancer navigator, didn’t want to burden her family when she got her breast cancer diagnosis.

“My daughter lived in Santa Fe and I couldn’t put that stress on her,” she says. “So I went to appointments by myself. I just remember that. There was no one sitting next to me.”

Romero says treatment was very different 20 years ago. She had a lumpectomy and 10 lymph nodes removed, along with chemotherapy and radiation. But the cancer has not returned: “Thank goodness.”

Romero began her work at Comadre a Comadre as a volunteer, although she’s now compensated for some of her hours, she says. “My job is to empower them, to educate them.”

The program is anchored in mentoring Latinas recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Those survivors helped by the program often become volunteers and continue the work. The program helps underserved women, often with few financial resources, learn about resources that are available for them.

In New Mexico breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Hispanic women and it has doubled since 1998, according to New Mexico Tumor Registry Cancer Surveillance data and the website.

Elba Saavedra, director of Comadre a Comadre, says in an email the Spirit of Hope award means a lot to the organization: “Dalila is immensely deserving of this award and she is an amazing role model and support for the women as a patient navigator.”

The agency will also receive a grant from the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation as will the American Cancer Society for wigs and other head coverings for underserved women with breast cancer; Cancer Services of New Mexico for legal and insurance assistance; Cancer Support Now for a four-hour workshop for caregivers; Casa Esperanza for food, lodging and gasoline for breast cancer patients and their families from rural areas; People Living Through Cancer for support for low-income people; Presbyterian Cancer Center for educational videos and recordings; UNM Health Sciences Center for educational materials about genetic testing; and YWCA/Anita Salas Memorial Fund to provide mammograms and follow-up services for underserved women.

Along with the award ceremony, breast cancer survivor Joan Lunden, a well-known television personality, will speak in one of her first engagements since her treatment. Lunden, 64, mother of seven, and a new grandmother, will talk about her cancer, an aggressive type that didn’t show up on her annual mammogram, but on a subsequent ultrasound.

Also, in two free seminars that begin at 10 a.m., a panel of breast cancer medical experts will speak about what’s new in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, while a panel of survivors in a separate seminar will share their stories and host a fashion show.

More and more women survive, unlike the event’s and foundation’s namesake, Nancy Floyd Haworth, who died at 42 of breast cancer. Her parents Dr. Vaun and Mary Floyd established the foundation in 1990 as a tribute to their daughter.