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For most in their early 20s, working full time and going to school full time is not an uncommon story. 22-year-old Cynthia Moctezuma had to handle a full load of classes, and work, while battling cancer. On October 5, 2010, she was diagnosed with Leukemia.

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Leukemia is a type of cancer in the blood or bone marrow in which there is an abnormal increase of white blood cells. In comparison to other types of cancers, leukemia diagnosis is relatively rare, with an estimated 52,380 new cases in 2014 making it low on the list of common types of cancer. Hispanic women account for 8.7 percent of new cases per 100,000 persons.

Moctezuma noticed she was ill when she realized that she could no longer complete the simple task of going outside and taking a walk. She brushed it off, assuming she was sick.

She was unable to stand for long periods of time, something which was required by her employer at the time. Moreover, she was unable to hold down any food.

“I was really stubborn,”  said Moctezuma. “I never liked doctors. I would never go to the doctor. If I had a fever, I’d take care of it myself. If I had sore muscles, I’d just take care of it myself.”

After some coaxing from her mother, she finally went in for a check-up. Originally, she was diagnosed with anemia. “I got a blood test a few days later and they told me I had leukemia. They called me over the phone and rushed me to emergency,” said Moctezuma.

From that point on, Moctezuma’s daily routine changed. Everything had to be sterilized. Visitors had to disinfect their hands and have a clean bill of health before entering her room. Children especially were discouraged unless they had a clean bill of health. Moctezuma recalled certain relatives were barred from visiting altogether.

“I wouldn’t be as active as I was before; no playing sports, nothing like that,” said Moctezuma. “I was basically secluded from everybody for a while.” If she needed to go outside, she was required to wear a mask to prevent exposure to illnesses. During treatment and post-treatment her diet was restricted. Even today, she still follows her strict diet and exercise routine.

But even the appropriate precautions could not prevent all symptoms.

“There was a point, and a period of time, where my right side of my body went numb and I wasn’t able to walk. I was paralyzed.” said Moctezuma. “I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to walk again.”

Despite always feeling fatigued, she graduated from cosmetology school and found employment as a stylist. “I know it’s hard, but it doesn’t mean because you have cancer you can’t do much. Anything is possible, even with cancer. It doesn’t mean it’s going to break you. With or without cancer you can achieve anything.”

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