Moms

Dallas-Fort Worth breast cancer survivor is a picture of courage

This month Nicole Vazquez's smiling face appears on various cereal boxes, but the Lewisville woman did not win a gold medal or a golf championship.

She survived breast cancer, and her courage inspired others so much that General Mills chose her as a Pink Together Survivor Ambassador.

As an ambassador, Vazquez appears on General Mills products such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios and Nature Valley Granola Bars. Her story is also featured on PinkTogether.com, an online community of 680,000 survivors.

Vazquez, 38, was undergoing reconstructive surgery when a colleague submitted her story to the website.

She was selected from thousands whose stories were posted online, according to Andrea Stein, PinkTogether campaign manager. The challenge was narrowing them down to five from across the country.

"In Nicole's case, the team could not help but be drawn to her optimistic, energetic and fun attitude," Stein said.

It's no surprise she is being recognized, friends said.

"Nicole is a very positive, outgoing, bubbly type person and she remained that way throughout her treatment," said Betty Schnaufer, who was Vazquez's boss at MPI Meeting Professionals International. "In spite of everything, she was always very upbeat, positive and determined that this was not going to defeat her."

Vazquez was 34 when a lump she discovered shortly after playing soccer turned out to be an aggressive form of Stage II breast cancer.

Except for her gender, she had no risk factors.

She had no family history of breast cancer, and her diagnosis came at an age when mammograms are not even recommended. Only about 7 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are in women under the age of 40, according to the National Cancer Institute.

As a Hispanic, she also has a lower risk of developing and dying from breast cancer than Anglo or black women.

And yet there she was in 2007, facing months of chemotherapy, then surgery and radiation. Less than a month after the diagnosis, she started chemo every other Friday, returning to work each Monday as if nothing had happened.

Her friends and family could not believe how driven she was to not let the cancer get her down.

"We had a conference in another city and when she went, nobody ever knew anything about what was going on with her," Schnaufer said. "She remained very committed to work at hand."

She was in the middle of radiation treatments when her brother, Jaime "Mito" Vazquez, told her about his goal to cross the finish line of the Komen Race for the Cure with his sister.

"I ran the last mile with my brother, holding on to his T-shirt," she said. "But we did it."

Vazquez, who now works for Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Dallas, has not only spread awareness on her job, but also has worked to educate Latina women about the benefits of early detection, Stein said.

Since being named an ambassador, Vazquez has been busier than ever, and lately she's been caught off-guard by her sudden brush with fame. While her parents in San Antonio have been filling the cupboards with cereal boxes, she's barely had time to pick up her own souvenirs.

Her face seems to be everywhere during this breast cancer awareness month: on PinkTogether and a Facebook fan page as well as in a video on YouTube.

Her message to other women facing breast cancer is simple.

"You're not alone," she said. "You just gotta stay positive."

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664

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