Most people would simply shut down facing a diagnosis of Stage-4 Breast Cancer. But Myra Camino is not most people.
Myra, 2018 Big Sister of the Year for the state of Florida, looks to the future and celebrates life with a broad smile, positive attitude and contagious enthusiasm. And, in spite of a whirlwind of aggressive treatment, medications and doctors, she maintains a fully-committed, caring relationship with her Little Sister Saleen.
The special bond between Myra and Saleen started when Saleen was 6 years old. Myra’s ebullient personality perfectly complimented Saleen’s shy demeanor. One reason for their strong connection was that they both love to make things. During their nearly 5 years together, they’ve made everything from bracelets to origami.
“We love arts and crafts,” said Myra. “It bonds us. I usually find little kits for us to work on together.”
In addition to her creativity, Saleen, now 11, is a bright, smart and sweet young lady. This strength came into play when her father died unexpectedly when she was 6.
Though deeply saddened, Saleen worked through the trauma with the help of Myra. To help her heal, they put their combined creative skills to work to create a memory book in remembrance of her dad. Every week they would do a little more and talk about her dad and her loss.
“I don’t think people give Saleen enough credit,” Myra said. “She has a quiet strength, and the loss of her dad hasn’t stopped her. She’s an overcomer, although she hasn’t yet realized her strength.”
It took all of Myra’s strength to break the news of her life-threatening illness to Saleen, who was still reeling from the loss of her father.
“Telling Saleen was huge. I wondered how to explain this to this little girl, who already had experienced so much loss in her life,” she said. “But she seemed to handle it well. She was quiet when we told her, and I reassured her that she could ask me any questions. I wanted her to see me being positive and fighting and not letting this disease get the best of me.”
The disease didn’t get the best of Myra – or the best of her match with Saleen. Myra was and still is committed to the match, in spite of the scary diagnosis and surrounding circumstances.
Myra discovered the lump in her breast January of 2016 when her son was 18 months old. Her doctor told her not to worry about it – it was probably a clogged milk duct – and to wait six months for her breast milk to dry up before going to have it checked. At the same appointment, he gave her a hormone-releasing IUD for contraception.
Because of the doctor’s lack of alarm combined with insurance issues, Myra didn’t go for testing until eight months later. The doctor who looked at her mammogram immediately ordered an ultrasound and biopsy. A few days later, she learned the bad news: she had stage-three breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. Apparently, the hormones from the IUD had fed the cancer, causing it to grow.
Treatment was aggressive. She immediately started chemotherapy, a strong drug cocktail known as the “red devil,” followed by a double mastectomy and removal of all the lymph nodes on the right side. During the mastectomy surgery, they placed expanders in her chest to become the foundation for reconstruction. Then she went through daily radiation treatments. Her body rejected one of the expanders and it had to be surgically removed. For months she had only one “breast” – she wore a prosthetic on the other side. The cancer unfortunately spread to her spine, so she went through two cyber knife treatments, which is a targeted form of radiation. Then, this past December, she had reconstructive surgery. Although stable, her cancer is now stage four.
There’s no evidence of active disease,” she said, “But I will have this for the rest of my life. It’s treatable but not curable. At least I’m alive.”
And living – with a huge positive attitude spiked with amazing faith – is just what Myra does. She takes care of her two young boys and husband. She works part time at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward as a client advancement coordinator, is an active community ambassador and supports the organization financially, despite towering medical bills.
“I go on faith every day,” she said. “I try to wake up every day with a grateful heart, and for the most part I have good days.”
She hopes her situation ultimately will affect Saleen in a positive way.
“I hope by seeing me go through this battle with cancer that she learns that she too can be strong and overcome anything,” she said. “I hope I have given her the tools to deal with some of life’s challenges.”
Not letting life’s tumult disrupt her relationship with Saleen is a testament to Myra’s commitment to the 11-year-old, to her love of children – and to the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ organization. Saleen is Myra’s third Little Sister.
Her first Little, Samantha, is not little anymore. After 5 years together, Samantha aged out of the program. She and Myra remain very close: in fact, Sam was in Myra’s wedding. They did go through some difficult times, however. Sam had her first baby in high school, which was hard for both of them.
“She was terrified to tell me she was pregnant,” said Myra. “She didn’t want to disappoint me. And when she did tell me, I felt bad because I felt I didn’t do my job to protect her. We got through it though – I talked to her about the situation and was there for her. I pointed out that this is a detour not a dead end, because I wanted her to realize she could still accomplish her dreams.” The biggest compliment was when Sam named her daughter after her Big Sister.
With Myra’s encouragement, Sam went on to earn her high school diploma and a medical assistant certification. Today, as a single mom of two girls, she works hard and takes care of her family.
“I’m very proud of the young woman she’s become,” said Myra. “I will always be close to her, her mom and sisters.”
Between Samantha and Saleen, there was Little Sister Patrice. Two years into the match, Patrice’s family moved away from their Miami home. At the time, Myra worked as a case manager in Miami’s foster care system. She was hired away by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami as an enrollment matching specialist. She then joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Broward County team in 2006. Having had three Little Sisters, she is a huge cheerleader for the organization.
Myra Camino perfectly exemplifies the heart of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She deeply cares about children, gives selflessly, and remains committed to her Little, in spite of any adversity that may come her way.