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Foundations of Family and Faith Bring Strength to Cancer Survivor

Doris Esparza and familyRelying on the strong foundations of her life, including family and faith, Doris Esparza of Wagner, S.D., was able to remain happy, outgoing and positive throughout her journey of advanced breast cancer – even at the young age of 25.

Doris, originally from California, moved to Nebraska with her family as a girl. At age 18, she married her husband, Hector, and she had her first son, Hector.

A few years later, baby Evan came along, and it was when she was breastfeeding Evan that Doris noticed a lump under her arm. She asked her physician, who first tried an antibiotic to see if the lump was caused by an infection. Yet when the lump did not go away, an ultrasound showed that she had enlarged lymph nodes.

The largest node – the one Doris could feel – was the size of a fist when it was surgically removed, and pathology studies showed it was cancer. Doris was referred to the Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls, under the care of Drs. Amy Krie and Julie Reiland. An MRI finally determined she had stage 4 breast cancer, because it had spread from the side of her breast, to under her arm, to her neck.

“I got sad and I shed a few tears. But then I said, ‘OK, what do we do now?’” - Doris Esparza

At the time of the diagnosis, Doris said her husband reacted with shock. “I got sad and I shed a few tears. But then I said, ‘OK, what do we do now?’”

When Drs. Krie and Reiland determined that Doris’ cancer was aggressive, they said the treatment must be aggressive as well. “My doctors also helped me tremendously. They were able to give me hope, that although my cancer was very advanced, they were going to do everything they could to help me.”

Doris was first treated with chemotherapy. “The chemotherapy did a wonderful job. An ultrasound showed that most of the lymph nodes had shrunk tremendously, and they couldn’t see the actual source of the cancer in the breast,” she said. Doris was then ready for surgery, and underwent a mastectomy. “At the time of surgery, they didn’t find any cancer in the breast.” Yet one lymph node tested positive for cancer. Then, Doris was scheduled for radiation treatments at Avera Cancer Institute Yankton.

Doris said her own positive outlook helped her family stay positive, and in turn, their strength helped her remain strong. “If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’re going to bring yourself down even further,” she said.

Even though she and her entire family were going through a difficult time, it didn’t stop them from going to the park, having barbeques, and just enjoying time together.

Doris was raised in the Catholic faith, and so she appreciated the tradition of faith woven into the fabric of Avera locations in Sioux Falls and Yankton. At the Avera Cancer Institute Sioux Falls, she received a prayer quilt through the Prayers and Squares ministry. The ties in the quilt are left untied, and can be tied with each prayer that is said for the cancer patient. “My kids would pray for me, and we’d tie a little knot,” Doris related.

“I tell my family that I beat cancer once. If it comes back, I sure will try my hardest to beat it again.” - Doris Esparza

A few months after her last radiation treatment, a CT and bone scan showed no signs of cancer. “Since the cancer had spread to my neck, Dr. Krie did warn me that the cancer could come back in another part of my body,” Doris said. She returns for frequent check-ups to keep a close eye out for recurrences. “I tell my family that I beat cancer once. If it comes back, I sure will try my hardest to beat it again.”

Being a cancer survivor has helped Doris realize just how precious the gift of life is. Tragically, her family lost Doris’ brother in a recent car accident. “His life was taken in a second. We just never know how much time we have,” she said. “I appreciate my life and even the smallest things, like the laughter of my kids or watching them play. I learned I shouldn’t take life for granted.”

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Breast Cancer
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Avera Cancer Institutes Throughout the Region

Avera Cancer Institute Aberdeen


Phone: 605-622-5500
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Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center


Phone: 507-532-9661
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Avera Cancer Institute Mitchell


Phone: 605-995-5756
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Avera St. Mary's Hospital


Phone: 605-224-3100
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Prairie Center building

Sioux Falls

Phone: 605-322-6900
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Avera Cancer Institute Yankton


Phone: 605-668-8850
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Cancer Care Locations Map

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