JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
A diagnosis of breast cancer is a scary thing, especially when your life is already in disarray, but that’s the news a 32-year-old active duty Airman received last summer.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Desiree Mora Mundt had just moved to San Antonio. The young mother of a toddler was living with her grandmother until her husband and daughter could make the move down to Texas from Wisconsin.
“I had pain in my right breast,” Mora Mundt said. “I thought that I was wearing my bra too tight because it was in the band region. I started rubbing the area to see if I could get some comfort and that’s when I felt it. It was obvious that something was wrong.”
After a mammogram and ultrasound, Mora Mundt found out she had an eight-centimeter mass. Within hours of the diagnosis, she received a call from Bianca Rodriguez, a breast nurse navigator at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
A breast nurse navigator assists patients and their caregivers through their treatment and recovery journey.
“I didn’t know who she was,” Mora Mundt said. “I didn’t know what her title meant; but from that moment, I have always been able to get ahold of her. She is invaluable.”
“Initially, when patients are first diagnosed, I am the first one making the call to arrange all of their initial consultation appointments,” Rodriguez explained. “Here at BAMC, things are so unique because we have a multidisciplinary approach. All the services are in one place, so it’s so easy for us to all communicate.”
Every Monday, BAMC holds a clinic just for breast cancer patients. During the clinic, patients see surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology and a cancer psychologist.
“We screen patients for any psychosocial needs they may have so we can help them with any barriers to care immediately,” Rodriguez said. “We also hold a monthly breast cancer support group.”
Rodriguez serves as an advocate for her patients, arranging surgery, acting as a go-between for the patient and their provider, and even coordinating transportation to and from appointments.
“Things that I wouldn’t know to advocate for myself, she does it for me,” Mora Mundt said. “I’m so grateful for her.”
“I love what I do,” Rodriguez said. “I’m passionate about what I do and I see the benefits of what I do.”
“Bianca is my role model because she shows me how to do it, because that’s what her job is to support those of us who have no idea what this journey is going to be like,” Mora Mundt said.
Mora Mundt opted to have a unilateral mastectomy and underwent a year of chemotherapy.
“I decided to have a single mastectomy because I want to have another child and be able to breastfeed,” she said.
Mora Mundt is currently cancer-free, and she is devoted to helping others who have been diagnosed with cancer.
“Even in the midst of her treatment, she has always been that person who wants to give back and do for other people,” Rodriguez said. “Her and her husband have been really active in our support groups and other events. Her husband actually wants to start a men’s support group for the spouses of cancer patients.”
Over the past year, the two women have become friends, sharing their aspiration to help others.
“I just found myself wanting to do more,” Mora Mundt said. “I still have a hard time being part of a support group, and being around people who have a worst prognosis than me, but I do find it easy to help them.”
Rodriquez is impressed by Mora Mundt’s positive attitude and confidence.
“You have a young woman, who is active duty military, serving our country, in the midst of a significant health crisis, and every time you see her she just lights up the room,” Rodriquez said.
“Right now I’m cancer free, so I make myself feel better by helping others,” Mora Mundt said. “I’m making a difference for those who don’t get to say they are cancer-free.”