Annie Peña at Making Strides walking event
More than a decade after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, Hostos Human Resources IT Assistant Annie Peña has a new lease on life and is helping other survivors near and far.
Peña’s world was turned upside down in 2008 when, eight months after giving birth to her second son, she found a lump in her breast. “That changed my life,” she said. “When you hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ you think that’s it for you. You think you’re going to pass away. You think you won’t see your children grow.”
Peña has since undergone the fight of her life. The mother of two has had a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, completed 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 25 rounds of radiation, and was on medication up until April 2019. “I believe God allowed me to go through this process because of what I do now,” she shared. 
Now cancer-free, Peña has not only been able to watch her sons—Ramses, 18, and Ryan, 11—grow up, but she has also helped raise breast cancer awareness and approximately $36K for the American Cancer Society over the last decade. Participating in the organization’s annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walking event is a family affair, and this year Peña’s eldest son even traveled from Georgetown University, where he is a freshman, to join his mother on October 20 as she participated in it for the last time. Although she will continue making private donations to the organization, Peña said she wants to focus more of her efforts and resources on giving back to other cancer survivors in her hometown of Santiago, in the Dominican Republic. 
Every year since receiving her diagnosis, Peña and her family have purchased and donated wigs to individuals receiving treatment at the Centro Oncológico in Santiago. Peña has also worked with the Sloan Memorial Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where she received treatment, to procure prosthetic breasts for patients who request them. On her first trip to the center, Peña was only able to bring three wigs with her, then twelve on their next trip. She and her family have donated countless wigs and prosthetics since.  
A fierce advocate for breast cancer awareness and education, Peña also pulls from her own experiences to counsel others who have been diagnosed with cancer, and she encourages both women and men—locally and abroad—to perform routine breast exams on themselves and get regular mammograms, reminding them that breast cancer does not discriminate. “Some don’t like to do mammograms at all but it is very important,” she said. “If they find your cancer in time, they can save your life.”

Peña additionally encourages others to research their treatment and reconstruction options. At the end of this month, she will undergo surgery to replace her implant with her own tissue—something she wish she’d know was possible when she originally underwent reconstructive surgery, as the implant she received reportedly poses a cancer risk. 

The last eleven years have been filled with many ups and downs for Peña, but looking back she said she wouldn’t change anything; she is grateful for the experiences she’s had and believes they’ve provided her with the insight and motivation to make a difference in others’ lives. “I’m doing good now, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m healthy, so I need to give back to my community. I need to give back to the people who helped me. So that’s what I do now.”