SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Cancer survivor Andrea Sauceda is using her voice to spread the word about the importance of the upcoming Day of Hope fundraiser, which directly benefits Mission Hope Cancer Center.
"This place has meant so much to me, and has helped me through my journey, and so why wouldn't I want to shout it from the rooftop?" said Sauceda. "I'm so grateful for Mission Hope Cancer Center. It just made everything doable, you know, in a way that something that was so difficult and so hard, it helped me push through."
The Santa Maria native, who is a teacher at Pacific Christian School, first came to Mission Hope after finding a lump in her breast in December 2021.
"I immediately got it checked out," said Sauceda. "I came to Mission Hope for my scan, my mammogram, and it confirmed that I had invasive ductal carcinoma, which is breast cancer. I was Stage 1, so we had caught it fairly early, and this is kind of where I started my journey here at Mission Hope."
For the preschool teacher and mother of two daughters, the diagnosis was devastating.
"I just did not expect that obviously," said Sauceda. I was 38-years-old at the time. It just came out of nowhere. I don't do self checks. I hadn't even started doing mammograms yet, so it was very surprising. I have a young family. I'm married, and so it just brought everything to a stop really, of me just trying to find out how do we go from here."
Fortunately for Sauceda, she didn't have to go very far to find the care she required. With Mission Hope Cancer Center located in her hometown, she was able to receive treatment just miles from her home, rather than having to travel far away.
"One of the first things that I thought of when I got diagnosed was, I'm so glad Mission Hope Cancer Center is here because I know I can go down the street and get the best care and the best services," said Sauceda. "I was so relieved, and it just took a big weight off my shoulders to know that everything is right here, and I'm so grateful that we have this cancer center in our community."
Soon after her diagnosis, the Mission Hope team went right to work, beginning what began a very long treatment process.
"I met with Dr. (Colleen) O'Kelly (Priddy), who's here at Mission Hope, and she was my breast surgeon, and we got me on the books for March so in March I was able to have a lumpectomy, where they removed a portion of the tumor, or the whole tumor, and a portion of my breast," said Sauceda. "Then I came back for chemotherapy, which I did 12 weeks of that, and then I had seven weeks of radiation following that, so last year was a lot of fighting this and treatments and surgeries and all of that. It's kind of what my year looked like."
It was a tough battle for Sauceda, who endured countless trips to the cancer center, and sometimes had to receive treatment without family members due to Covid-related restrictions.
"It's really scary," said Sauceda. "You kind of don't know what to expect. You get a long list of possible side effects and you don't know what you're going to feel and how your body is going to react, so it's very scary, but you have such an amazing team here at Mission Hope. They were incredible. They walked me through everything. They answered my questions. They gave me hope that there was going to be a light at the end of this tunnel, and they were going to do everything that they could to help me fight, and push through and get help."
Through all of her various treatments, Sauceda came to rely not just on the support of her family, friends and students, but also the Mission Hope staff.
"It made it easier, if you can even image that," said Sauceda. "It really did because there was people here that became my friends, that were with me every week. Every day when I started radiation, you are here every single day of the week, and they made things light, and were funny, and made me feel comfortable, but also made me feel like they're taking care of me, and they're helping me fight this, and so it meant everything to me, and to my family as well."
Also helping persevere through her journey was a support group that one of the many free services and resources provided by Mission Hope.
"I have my support group, which has been the best part of this whole thing, is getting to be part of a support group, getting to meet other ladies who are in the same boat that I am, who have their own journeys that they're battling," said Sauceda. "Some of them are newly diagnosed. Some of them are cancer free for a few years now, but we get to come together every month and do something fun, and those relationships mean the world to me because they helped me see that we can help each other. We can guide each other. We can cheer each other and cry for each other. We have all that in our support group."
After a year of ongoing treatment, Sauceda received great news in April this year.
"As far as we can tell, everything worked great," said Sauceda. "I am getting my scans. I just had my MRI done last month, and it came back clear. Everything looked good, and so they're just continuing to maintain me and making sure that everything is good to go, so every six months I come back for a mammogram, and then six months later, an MRI, and so every year I am getting two types of scans to kind of follow and make sure that everything is doing what we want it to do."
Given a clean bill of health, Sauceda is now giving back to the facility that has helped her beat cancer. Earlier this year, she was asked to serve as the Day of Hope ambassador, representing the cancer center through its Day of Hope campaign.
"I cried when I got the phone call. I was just so excited," said Sauceda. "It is a huge honor to get to be the ambassador this year, and I just want to make them proud, and I want to bring more awareness, and also just bring in more financial funds for them because they provide so much to the community, and to us cancer patients, and I want to continue to see that happen."
Now in its 10th year, the Day of Hope is an event is a major fundraiser that directly benefiting patients at Mission Hope Cancer Center.
On Aug. 23, starting at 7 a.m., hundreds of volunteers representing dozens of team will be located throughout the Santa Maria Valley and surrounding communities at street corners, intersections, parking lots, schools, churches and other highly visible locations.
Participating teams members will once again be selling special edition $1 Santa Maria Times. In addition to the newspaper sales during the morning, a car parade is scheduled as well. Beginning at 11 a.m. at the Santa Maria Fairpark, dozens of cars will travel through the city before finishing at Mission Hope.
Money collected will go to help fund the myriad of support services, programs and resources provided by Mission Hope, such as gift cards for gas, utilities and groceries, as well as free transportation. Donations also help the center continue to stay on the cutting edge of cancer care by purchasing state-of-the-art technology and equipment.
Since it was first held in 2014, the Day of Hope has generated more than $1.9 million. Last year, a record-breaking $345,000 was collected through the generous community support.
"It's so beautiful to see a community come together and to support this cause," said Sauceda. "As a cancer patient seeing that the community was supporting us and helping us, and bringing in donations, or buying newspapers for Day of Hope, that just makes you feel loved and taken care of. I think it's so cool to see businesses supporting people. Driving down the street on Day of Hope, giving out a dollar, $20 even, they'll give you more because they want to support Mission Hope Cancer Center."
As the day of the fundraiser approaches, Sauceda has a message for the community, which has helped countless lives over the past decade.
"I want them to know, thank you," said Sauceda. "I want them to know that it's touching lives. It's changing lives. It's giving us cancer survivors hope. Cancer patients hope because they're able to get services. They're able to get the things that they need to push through their battle and their journey, and so every time someone hands them anything to donate to Day of Hope, it's helping somebody in our community."
Learn more about Sauceda's cancer journey and about the upcoming Day of Hope fundraiser tonight on News Channel 3-12 at 6 p.m.
For more information about the Day of Hope or to donate, click here.
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