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October 2: Molly, Elizabeth and Geri Ximenez
Molly, Elizabeth and Geri Ximenez; founders of The Cup With Love Project
Where the Cup With Love Project is based: Sacramento, CA How many of the Ximenez sisters are breast cancer survivors: Two Oldest sister: Molly Middle sister: Elizabeth Youngest sister: Geri
After surviving stage III breast cancer, Molly Ximenez knew she had to inspire hope for others when her sister Elizabeth also had to get a mastectomy. Joined by their other sister Geri, the three women began focusing on raising awareness and building a sense of community for breast cancer survivors.
Molly created The Cup With Love Project, a nonprofit based in Sacramento that helps cancer survivors through acts of kindness. Her organization provides cups that are gifted with an inspirational poem (it may also include small tokens such as candy or a scarf), distributing them to cancer patients, especially those newly diagnosed. Since 2006, the project has reached out to over 5000 recipients.
In 1999, at the age of 49, the middle sister, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer, which was detected during her annual mammogram. Elizabeth underwent a radical mastectomy of the right breast. Because of other complications, doctors advised against any chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy. Within a year of her cancer diagnosis, Elizabeth again went in for her annual mammogram, which revealed cancer in her left breast — she then had her left breast removed. Within 14 months of her original diagnosis, she had endured extensive medical tests and seven surgeries.
In early 2003, at the age of 54, the oldest sister Molly was diagnosed with breast cancer. Molly's annual mammograms had showed no abnormalities. In mid–October of 2002, Molly began feeling twitches of pain in her left breast and felt slightly fatigued. By November she was experiencing severe dizziness and — along with twitches — she experienced piercing pain. At first, Molly's primary doctor believed her symptoms were probably the result of work-related stress. On a follow-up visit, he discovered several lumps. In February 2003, results from a mammogram and needle biopsies revealed that Molly had Stage III breast cancer. Molly needed a radical mastectomy of the left breast and, based on Elizabeth's history of breast cancer, also had the right breast removed. A month after the mastectomy Molly underwent intense chemotherapy treatments, radiation and reconstruction surgery.
The youngest sister of two survivors, Geri, volunteered for the Sister Study when she realized that she was at high risk of having breast cancer. Both her sisters' had struggled to find sufficient statistical breast cancer information pertaining to Hispanic woman, so she decided to participate in the only long-term study of women aged 35 to 74 to enhance outreach efforts not only to the Latino population but to other non–English speaking and underserved populations as well. Conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the observational study aims to learn how genetics and environmental factors contribute to a woman's risk of breast cancer. The study invited the participation of 50,000 multicultural women whose sisters had breast cancer and who do not have breast cancer themselves.
"We discovered that language and cultural barriers exist," says Geri. "This is an important study for the benefit of future generations. Through the sorrow and feeling of helplessness there is hope. Through the suffering and the healing we can empower others, educate, bring about change, and raise awareness."