by: Ray Monell
Writer, LatinTRENDS Magazine
A fateful shower Carmelina Vargas, 29, took one morning last October forever changed her life.
Vargas, a burgeoning music artist from south Harlem working on the release of her first album, discovered a small lump on her left breast. Rightfully concerned, she immediately had the affected area examined by doctors, who confirmed her worst fears: the lump was a malignant tumor, and she was inexorably diagnosed with breast cancer.
As close friends and family coped with the news, Vargas acted hastily to decisively counterattack a disease that had quietly ambushed her.
“It was a little shocking to my system, but when it comes to breast cancer, the treatment has to be done right away,” Vargas told Latin Trends Magazine. “They have local treatments, which is trying to move the cancer from the area, but I chose the most drastic and intense and aggressive treatment, which is removing both my breasts.”
“I didn’t want to go with the back and forth,” she continued explaining. “If there’s something on my other breast, if there’s something on the same breast… I didn’t have time for it. I learned the younger you are, the more aggressive the cancer is.
“I had so much to do with my life that I was courageous enough to choose that treatment, and I’ve been very pleased with it.”
Vargas was also told by doctors that the cancer had spread to her underarm, bringing her stage “up a little notch,” she said.
While undergoing chemotherapy, Vargas, whose family arrived to the U.S. when she was 8-years-old from their native Borohona, Dominican Republic, expanded her fight vis-a-vis cancer by persuading the Columbia University Medical Center to start the Survivors Volunteer Squad, where she works with women going through the same ordeal.
“What I do there is I mentor other women with recent diagnosis, and I’m also the patients’ voice, because I recently just actually ended my chemotherapy,” said Vargas. “A lot of women are fearful when they want to listen to another person who’s been through it. So you kind of mentor them and share your stories, and you find courage through each other’s experiences.”
Vargas’ status as a breast cancer survivor has enabled her to resume work on her music. Released under her eponymous stage name, Carmelina, her debut album, “Morena,” as she described to LT Magazine, is a “bilingual, pop-R&B album.”
“It has some reggaeton tracks, some pop tracks,” said Vargas, who drew inspiration from Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz and Madonna. “It’s mostly in Spanish, but I have a few English tracks, and I just released my very first music video for the track, ‘LOVE.’
“Since I finished my chemo, it’s been a year and I’m gonna start my project again and continue my career.”
On October 22, Carmelina Vargas will hold a breast cancer fundraiser at Latin Quarters. October, which marks the 1-year anniversary of her diagnosis, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as the moniker of the month implies, it is a platform for survivors to enlighten the unaware on a disease that, according to the American Cancer Society, was expected to claim the lives of over 40,000 women in 2009.
“It was the first time that I knew of the severity of the disease, because I could’ve died if I didn’t find it,” Vargas said before we got off the phone. “That’s where my awareness comes from. You know, a lot of people are silent about this disease – but it happened to me and I’m going to talk about till I’m done with it!”