singer-songwriter Soraya lost her breasts to cancer. Today, she works to
By Peggy J.
Her post-cancer comeback CD, "Soraya," was nominated for the 2004
Latin Grammy in the Best Singer-Songwriter Album category.
nearing great success on the Latin music charts, singer-songwriter Soraya,
only 31, got the worst news of her life: She had Stage 3 breast cancer.
she was gearing up for a national tour to promote her just-completed third
CD, the folk-based, pop-savvy "Cuerpo y Alma/I'm Yours," when she discovered
a lump during a routine breast self-exam. The discovery was even more
chilling because the Colombian-American beauty from New Jersey already had
lost her mother, aunt and grandmother to breast cancer.
always been very independent, and I've always been very strong," says the
singer who's been called the Latina Sarah McLachlan, "but at that moment,
when I was diagnosed, I did doubt if I had what it takes to get through it."
(pronounced so-RYE-ah) always had eaten right, tried to run 3 miles a day,
received regular check-ups and generally took good care of herself. She
thinks that being in such great shape
helped her cope with the arduous treatment she faced. Courses of
chemotherapy. Radiation. Bilateral mastectomy. Reconstruction.
family formed her support team. They joke about it now, but during the
crisis everyone had an assignment. One person made sure she ate well.
Another made sure she got to the doctors' on time. Another took notes. "It's
really important to either record things or put things down on paper,
because by the time you get home, it's very hard to remember," Soraya says.
"You're in such shock."
would take her breasts, her hair, her confidence and even -- temporarily --
her career. Music became her refuge from pain, nausea, fatigue and despair
and "part of my therapy. It was my private space where I could disappear
to," Soraya says. Her guitar gave her strength as well as an outlet where
she could "pour it all out."
Soraya woke up feeling good -- really good. "I realized at that moment that
I had turned the corner." Yes, cancer had turned her life upside down and
shelved her career, but it hadn't beaten her. Her life might not be the
same, but it was still her life, and she was determined to make the most of
it, starting with writing No One Else/Por Ser Quien Soy, a song of hope and
triumph. The first time she performed it was at a Race for the Cure event in
front of pink-shirted breast cancer survivors. Today, the song has been
shared with a million fans via CD giveaways and free downloads from
www.livingwithit.org, Web site of one of the cancer programs she
supports. Her own site, soraya.com, links to resources in English and
outreach programs are especially important to her because she sees
reflections of her mother, aunt and grandmother in many of the women she
meets. "My family comes from Colombia, and my mom did not grow up with Race
for the Cure events ... with the month of October being [National] Breast
Cancer Awareness Month. She did not grow up knowing to start doing a breast
self-exam monthly," Soraya says, "knowing that she needs a yearly mammogram
at a certain age. All of the work that I do is to try to help break that
Learn about breast cancer, and perform self-exams. If you do find a lump,
don't be afraid. And, most important, don't give up hope.
we'll say breast cancer is a chronic disease, a thing that you don't die
from but you can live with."