By Erica Quiroz, MD Anderson Staff Writer
A breast cancer survivor born in Mexico, Eva Vega has made it her mission to educate as many Spanish speakers as she can about cancer.
She's the chair of Anderson Network's 24th annual Cancer Survivorship Conference -- Sept. 14 and 15 at the Omni Houston Hotel Westside -- and her enthusiastic recruitment is responsible for an impressive surge in Hispanic attendees.
The two-day conference offers support to cancer patients and survivors through inspiring speakers, chances to network, and nearly two dozen educational breakout sessions. In addition, each cluster of sessions features one topic explored completely in Spanish.
"I tell people about the conference because I want them to have the same amount of support I've received," she says. "Patients at MD Anderson aren't always aware of the available programs."
Vega was diagnosed in 1999 and knows firsthand how overwhelming cancer can be.
"I was very depressed after I received my diagnosis," she says. "My doctor suggested that I go to a support group for Spanish speakers. I told him I would go, but kept putting it off."
"After meeting women who were going through the same things, I gained a lot of confidence," she says. "And that's when I heard about the conference for the first time."
Making a difference
With her newfound support system, Vega and friends from her support group jumped at the chance to attend their first conference in 2004.
At the time, breakout sessions were only available in English, but that didn't deter them from deciding to make the conference an annual event.
Since then, Vega has become a walking advertisement for the conference. She tells friends, family and anyone she meets along the way about the benefits of attending.
"We're the ones who know our bodies best and if there's anything unusual, people need to see a doctor," she says. "I caught my cancer very early, and I want people to know all the options they have to prevent it."
To encourage Hispanic attendees, Vega speaks to people throughout the year at her church, The Rose, Ben Taub General Hospital, Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital -- even the grocery store.
Her small group has grown significantly, and she's recruited the most people ever for attendance this year.
"I know that Spanish speakers don't go to events like this for different reasons, so my main goal is to make them aware of this resource and increase their attendance," she says.
"Growing up in Mexico, I never thought I would face this disease, but it's given me so much. I've met a lot of people, I've grown as a person, and I've been able to help other women as well."