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Athens Elementary School bilingual teacher is a breast cancer warrior and survivor

Martha Garza spends her days in her second grade classroom at Athens Elementary School teaching children how to speak Spanish. At the same time, the seasoned educator has spent the past year learning some lessons she never imagined would be put before her.

Garza was teaching at Price Elementary School when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2018. She had not gotten a mammogram in over three years and reluctantly went for an exam at the insistence of her mother.

“I actually did not have any lumps,” Garza said. “It was triple negative cancer.”

This type of cancer is more aggressive than other forms and more likely to spread beyond the breast. There’s also a higher chance it will come back within the first three years after treatment, but Garza immediately began chemotherapy which would last five months.

“I took it hard and I lost a lot of weight,” said Garza. “I didn’t have energy; I didn’t want to do anything,” but her passion for teaching helped keep her on track.

Garza got permission from her principal to send letters home to her students’ parents about the change in her appearance.

“I told them I was going to lose my hair and wearing something on my head to cover it because I couldn’t look like that,” she added. “I was pale, I lost all of my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes.”

Her oldest daughter would take Garza for chemotherapy on Mondays, and she would return home exhausted with no appetite and no sense of smell.

“It was pretty hard,” Garza said. “I lost close to 52 pounds in a period of four months.”

Between her mother’s attempts to make her favorite foods, her three children’s continued support and her school family’s fund-raising efforts to assist with mounting medical expenses, Garza moved forward and returned back to class each Tuesday.

As she prepared for the next chapter of her cancer battle, Garza found that even with insurance, cancer was costly. Despite her school family’s assistance, she used money she had put aside for her daughter’s college tuition, credit cards and was able to secure a grant to pay for a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

As a result of the surgeries, Garza still receives physical therapy three times a week to strengthen her arm, gets steroid shots and doctors have now discovered a bump on her arm which she is receiving treatment for.

“The arm is getting much better but the pain is still there,” Garza said.  

Through all the challenges of the past year, Garza says she saw some dark times.

“When I was going through it, there was a time when I thought I couldn’t do this anymore; I was giving up,” she said. “I’m just grateful that I’m here.”

This Oct. 3rd, which was the date of her 10-hour surgery in 2018, Garza celebrated being cancer-free for one year. She says she’s happy to tell her story and help someone else who faces a cancer diagnosis.

“Go do your checkups,” said Garza. “I was a warrior, now I’m a survivor and I can yell to the world and tell them what I went through.”