“I was calling myself ugly, I was like oh my god this is horrible,” Star Lopez said. “I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror.“
Star Lopez lives with constant reminders of what she's gone through.
“It took me awhile to accept all the scars,” said as she wiped away tears.
Scars that tell the story of her survival.
"Talk to me about the moment you found out you tested positive,” I asked her last October. “I didn’t want to believe it,” she said.
I met Star one year ago. At the time, she was diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gave her a 90% chance of developing breast cancer.
So she took action and decided to get a preventative double mastectomy. It's a day her two daughters, Alliah and Anastasia, will never forget.
“I said mom, don’t go to the hospital, just stay like this,” Anastasia remembered. “I was scared [of] her not coming back.”
“I stood up all the hours she was in surgery, I made sure," Alliah said. "When she came out, [well] I don’t like to see my mom in that condition.”
The surgery may have saved her life, but the weeks and months that followed were grueling.
“November 3rd I ended back up at Hackensack [University Medical Center], for another five days," Star said. "My fever went up to 103, chills, the smell that was coming from my left breast was unbearable.”.
Star had an infection caused from a layer of skin being too thin. Her doctors said it was unavoidable.
“I had a wound vac for three three months. It’s like a purse, and it’s a sponge basically, they put it where your wound is at and it’s like a vacuum,” she described. “I had nothing, you could’ve put your whole fist inside my chest.”
The infection is now gone but Star says she has battled body image issues, which she's working on.
“Just yesterday, I caught myself looking after I came out the shower and I was like oh wow yes," she smiled. "Now I’m starting to feel better but it takes time.”
The resulting financial burden, on the other hand, may never go away.
“I have bills that come here almost every day,” Star said. “One doctor cost me $80,000, the insurance isn’t paying, that’s just one.”
Star remains active in the fight against breast cancer participating year-round fundraising efforts.
“I have daughters, I have two girls, so it’s like the more educated I am, the more I can teach them,” she explained.
Education and early detection are key, as cancer runs heavily in her family.
“My oldest just told me she’s ready, she’s ready for the [BRCA gene] test,” Star said.
“This is like such a sensitive subject," Alliah said with tears in her eyes. "I think I want to do it because if I’m going to be strong throughout the process, if anything goes wrong, I just want her to know that's she’s not by herself and I’m doing this because it’s the safe thing to do.”
Alliah is getting tested the first week of November. As for Star, her cancer worries are far from over. The BRCA gene still gives her a 20 to 60 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.
“I’ve decided with my GYN that they’re coming out [next year], I don’t want to take a chance,” Star said.
“My mom is beautiful regardless," Alliah smiled. "I’m not saying this because I’m her daughter, I’m saying this because of who she is as a whole.”
“I usually say that you’re beautiful, you are a great mom, nobody can beat you ever,” Anastasia said of her mom.
And it seems nothing can beat up or break down the spirit of this family.
“I’m looking at it as a positive way," Star said. "At the beginning I saw it as infection but now it’s like you know what I did this for a reason. I would do it all over again.”
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi