For Lolita Lopez, her hair was always a big part of what defined her. It defined her as a strong Puerto Rican woman. Wearing it curly, especially on air, was important to her.
But in the days following her breast cancer diagnosis, Lopez started to realize something. Losing her hair might be a tough part of the cancer recovery process, but her hair was not what defined her. It was just a part of her.
“And now being a cancer survivor is also part of me” Lopez added.
The KNBC reporter’s diagnosis was stage two A invasive breast cancer. She caught it at a very early stage and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. The tumor was only in her right breast and was the size of an olive.
“When my radiologist confirmed that I had breast cancer, I was in my car. I cried. I cried uncontrollably,” Lopez said.
Then came the most difficult part of all. She had to tell her husband.
Relaying the breast cancer diagnosis to the people closest to her was hard. That was the time, she said, she cried the most.
Lopez and her husband went together to see Dr. Jeannie Shen, the Director of Breast Surgery at the Huntington Hospital Cancer Center in Pasadena.
“She is an extremely strong and assertive person. It makes a lot of sense that she would want to get up front and on top of the situation” her husband, Eric Talesnick, said.
Dr. Shen walked Lopez and her husband through what to expect.
“The idea that breast cancer is a death sentence is absolutely incorrect nowadays. As of February 2013 there are 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the US,” the doctor informed them.
“My job is to help educate women to help them understand what their choices are,” Shen added.
Choices were important to Lopez. Realizing she had choices was a powerful moment. One of her first choices was to shave her head.
“I did not want to wait for my hair to fall out. The day after my first chemotherapy, only two weeks after finding the lump, I decided, no more curls,” Lopez recalled.
“It kind of makes it real. When you’re hair comes off, it’s no longer discussing it,” her husband said.
Yo Zeimen, the Cancer Center’s cosmetologist, helped Lopez deal with the shaving process. Zeiman also helped Lopez find her “alternative hair.” Lopez lovingly called her wig, “Dolly.”
“It was difficult, but choosing to shave my head was the right decision for me,” Lopez said.
Breast cancer helped show Lopez that, with or without her hair, she was still herself.
“I know my Puerto Rican sass, and wit, and my smarts, and my smiles, and my laughter…everything else that comes with it…has nothing to do with my hair,” Lopez said.