SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A trip to the doctor's office last March forever changed the life of Susan Rodriguez.
"I had a discoloration on my lip and my sister kept bugging me that I had to go to the doctor and get it checked out," said the longtime Orcutt resident. "So I finally went and decided to get a full check-up while I was at it and the nurse found a lump in my breast."
Rodriguez was soon diagnosed with HER2, a rare and agressive form of the disease.
"It was shocking," said Rodriguez, who has five children, along with five grandchildren. "You think that's not me, I don't have cancer, I don't want to be in that group, so it takes a while for it to sink in."
Treatment quickly started at Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria.
"Once it does, it's one thing after another with the tests and the treatment," Rodriguez said. "I went through chemo and a couple of other drugs and two surgeries."
Over the next 12 months, Rodriguez developed a deep appreciation for the cancer center she says she wasn't familar with before her diagnosis.
"This is a fantastic center," said Rodriguez. "They have so many different things available. From classes, I've done the yoga classes, the acupuncture, which helps with the side effects of chemo. They have a class for makeup and show you how to put your wig on. They give you wigs and hats and they have a walking group, and all sorts of extra stuff. Counseling if you need it. Group meetings."
In addition to the special services Mission Hope provides its patients, Rodriguez is particularly grateful to the quality of care she's receiving.
"The doctors have all been excellent," said Rodriguez. "They've all been great and the nurses when you go up to the infusion room, it's like family, they welcome you when you come in for more treatment and everyone has just been fantastic."
To help Mission Hope provide all of its services, such as gift cards for groceries and gas, or money to pay for rent or utilities, the center created the "Day of Hope" fundraiser.
Started in 2014, the five-hour event is held throughout the Santa Maria Valley. It involves community groups and volunteers selling special edition Santa Maria newspapers for $1. It has further grown to Lompoc and Nipomo.
"Every single cent of the dollar is going to help someone," said Mission Hope Medical Director Dr. Robert Dichmann. "It's not 50 percent because we're taking a cut of administrative or whatever, it's 100 percent of going back to those kind of services."
Donations collected from the Day of Hope now exceed $100,000 annually.
"It does increase awareness of Mission Hope and what we do for the community," said Dr. Dichmann. "Cancer eventually touches everybody, so it's nice for people to have this when needed."
Rodriguez is grateful the fully state-of-the-art fully integrated cancer care facilty is located in Santa Maria, saving her countless trips out-of-town.
"You're going through all this stuff," said Rodriguez. "All the treatment and the side affects and the emotions, the financial stresses, and the fact that I just drive across town for treatment was a blessing. I couldn't imagine having to drive an hour, two hours to receive all the treatment that I've had here. It's just incredible that it's right here in our backyard."
Exactly one year after learning she has breast cancer, the avid hiker is now firmly on the road to recovery.
"It's going great. I'm healing, recovering," said Rodriguez.
She adds she see things differently and has a greater appreciation for life, and especially her family.
"Things that used to bother me, don't bother me, the traffic gets slow, it doesn't bother me. If somebody complains about something that seems trivial, that bothers me," Rodriguez said. "Priorities kind of change, relationships with people that you love become more important."
In addition, she emphasizes the importance of Mission Hope Cancer Center.
"This place saved has saved my life and I'm just so blessed I'm here and Mission Hope is here to help me," said Rodriguez.
For more information on the Day of Hope, call (805) 739-3595 or visit https://www.supportmarianmedical.org/dayofhope