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Leading the Charge of Breast Cancer Awareness

Afghanistan, Army Veteran Alexandra Rivas breast cancer survivor using VA Cancer Rehabilitation Program to recover.
Afghanistan, Army Veteran Alexandra Rivas, breast cancer survivor who uses VA for her care.

After serving for 12 years in the Army and deploying to Afghanistan, Army Veteran Alexandra Rivas is fighting a war on breast cancer, for a second time, with armament from VA.

After serving for 12 years in the Army and deploying to Afghanistan, Army Veteran Alexandra Rivas is fighting a war on breast cancer, for a second time, with armament from VA. “They're saving my life and they're also helping me regain some of my life back,” said Rivas. “It won't be the same, of course, but I’ll feel some sort of normalcy.”

Rivas spoke about what VA’s cancer treatment has done for her and how it’s impacted her life.

She’s recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and, fortunately, doesn’t have to get radiation, this time. Rivas will have another surgery to remove her ovaries and then, have reconstructive surgery.

Her cancer was first discovered at an urgent care appointment for her son. “The first time around it was just me and my kid. We didn't know how to navigate through this,” said Rivas. “This second time around I know what to expect, how to navigate with the oncologist, continual labs, and the support I will receive from the women's health clinic.”

While Rivas has missed much needed family support, because they’re back in Chicago, VA has become an extended family. “I love my family and I know they want to be here,” said Rivas. “The VA has taken a lot of pressure off, especially when you're not feeling right, and you're scared.” Much like the comradery Rivas found during service, she’s found the same at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System (VASNHS).

“My therapist and I are building a sisterhood and I feel that she cares about me and my well-being,” said Rivas. “When I see my doctor it’s like saying ‘hey what's up’ to an uncle. Because of that familiarity over the years, he knows how to communicate and shoots straight with me.”

Dr. Nicole Khaldy is part of VASNHS’ comprehensive multidisciplinary survivorship program. “We are committed to helping people stay independent and active through each stage of their cancer journey,” said Khaldy. “We offer a cancer rehab care team of specialists to support Veterans through their treatment.”

The team helps people diagnosed with cancer minimize symptom burden and improve daily function and quality of life—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially—from diagnosis through end of life.

VASNHS has rolled out its Comprehensive Cancer Rehabilitation Program in 2023.

The program targets the ancillary symptoms felt during cancer treatment by focusing on three critical areas: at diagnosis, before cancer surgery or treatment, during cancer treatment, and post-treatment through survivorship.

Rivas has benefited from the patient-centered, whole health approach to address her specific health needs and desired health outcomes. It has optimized her functional status and quality of life through a myriad of cancer interventions.

There are currently 18.1 million Cancer Survivors in the United States. More than 43,000 Veterans have a new cancer diagnosis each year. Sadly, up to 90% of cancer survivors will have at least one impairment or side effect that decreases their quality of life. The most common side effects include pain, fatigue, brain fog, and difficulty moving, yet less than 10 percent of people get help for their symptoms.

Rivas has worked hard at being comfortable enough to ask for help. “I'm a proud person,” she said. “But I’ll admit that I’m grateful that this program was created.”

Learn more about VASNHS’s Comprehensive Cancer Rehabilitation Program on their website.

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