SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Day of Hope ambassador Karissa Sanchez is moving forward with her life after a recent battle with breast cancer.
The Orcutt resident is the face of this year's event, which will raise funds for Mission Hope Cancer Center patients.
"I'm excited just to kind of represent Mission Hope," said Sanchez. "They have been there for me throughout so many things in my journey."
Her journey through cancer treatment first began two years ago.
"I actually found a lump in my left breast in July of 2019," said Sanchez. "I was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma."
A native of San Diego, Sanchez said has no family history of the disease.
"It was shocking," said Sanchez. "Unbelievable. Nothing I would would have ever expected. For me, I was told it was a lipoma, so that's kind of what we were all thinking, and then I came back and we did a biopsy, and it wasn't, so it was a complete shock."
Soon after, a long and difficult treatment process began, including chemotherapy in July 2020, followed by a lumpectomy in September, and a three-month radiation period from November 2020 to January 2021.
Adding on to the challenge of going through cancer treatment was the adversity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That was definitely hard," said Sanchez. "Cancer itself is really hard and then to throw all that on top was even harder. When you go through something like this, you want to be surrounded with love, with your friends and your family, and that was the one thing you couldn't do."
Helping through the all of the treatments was a dedicated team of doctors, nurses and staff members at Mission Hope.
"Everyone in this building has been an important part of my journey, from the front desk, from the infusion nurses, my oncologist, social worker. Everyone here has been a huge, huge help in my journey," said Sanchez. "They know my name when I walk in. They're always very friendly, tell me things about their families, ask me about mine. They're all just very nurturing and caring. That is one thing that I definitely felt here and do feel here every time that I come."
Shortly after she finished radiation, Sanchez began hormone therapy, something she said she will continue for the next five to 10 years.
"I'm cancer free right now," said Sanchez. Thankfully! It feels amazing! It feels great! It feels like I have my life back. That's what I'm working towards right now, just kind of getting my life back, getting back to the things that I enjoy, the things that make me happy, focusing on my health, and just trying to get my life back, a new and improved life."
One of the most significant parts of her life is walking and hiking, something Sanchez said helped her through treatment.
"For me walking, just being in nature, being outside, getting my body moving is something that was really important to me," said Sanchez. "To get out in nature, walk, break a sweat. All those things are not just good for your physical health, your mental health, and that's something that was super important, especially going through cancer with Covid. Mental health was super important."
Now, as she prepares to represent Mission Hope during this year's Day of Hope, it's giving her time to reflect on her experience.
"It is an honor to me," said Sanchez. "I just so grateful and I just feel honored to be able to represent, especially being so young, I definitely want to make that known that this can happen, no matter what age you are, and just to really be cautious your life choices and to really be aware that this can happen at this young age."
Now in its eighth year, the Day of Hope features teams of volunteers selling special edition $1 Santa Maria Times newspapers throughout the community.
"All of the donations, all of the proceeds will go back to this facility, back to the cancer patients, back to the programs here, back to their families, which is so important," said Sanchez. " I can't tell you how important all of those things were during my journey, especially going through during a pandemic."
The Day of Hope is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.
For more information, or to donate, click here.