BRANDON, Fla. — Lavita Rodriguez is a ray of sunshine. She's bound to put a smile on your face within just minutes of meeting her.
But inside, she's fighting a battle.
We'll start back in 2008. At the age of 23, she was paralyzed from a car crash.
"A decade later, I received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2018, where I had a lymph node swell in my left underarm," explained Rodriguez.
After a mammogram, doctors found a 5.1cm tumor. She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
"Which is a small subset of breast cancer that is aggressive, and extremely difficult to treat. I don't have access to hormonal therapies because my cancer is not triggered by hormones. So all three of the hormones are negative. I've gone through numerous treatments. So the first round, whenever I was first diagnosed, I received eight rounds of chemotherapy, I did radiation, I also did cold cap therapy, I did, you know, just there were so many parts of treatment," explained Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was in remission a little over a year when the cancer spread to her bones.
"I'll get a scan and then it will change and when it changes, I change my treatment. But with that comes, you know, triple-negative, being aggressive, a small subset, I don't have access to as many treatments as somebody who has a hormonal cancer. So my cancer is a little trickier in that way, you know, that I need more therapies, you know, we need funding," Rodriguez explained.
ABC Action News met Rodriguez at the Florida Cancer Specialists. She credits a lot of this journey to medical oncologist Dr. Robert Weaver.
Rodriguez said, "Because I would say around 80 to 90% of this journey is emotional. And you know, to go through this and to try and continue to live a normal life with an oncologist who doesn't support you know, your faith, your emotions, you know, the highs and lows that come with, you know, scans, and with treatment, going through various side effects and truly just being able to, to help you throughout the journey. And he's, he's helped me heal at all stages."
Rodriguez reflects on the moment she saw him for treatment.
"The first thing he said, you know, is you are not supposed to be here, because I was on my way into law school. And so I should not have been here, but I am. And thankfully I am here. And thankfully, you know, God has given me somebody who has faith as strong as mine. "
Keeping your support system close can be key to fighting the battle.
"So patients being able to receive, you know, state of the art care, you know, in their own backyard, to use an expression, is of great value because they keep their family that's close by their support system, their familiarity and their day to day routine. Certainly, when you have a cancer diagnosis, you're undergoing treatment, you have to be attentive to the treatments and the appointments. And that it's not as though you can put that aside," explained Dr. Weaver.
Dr. Weaver tells ABC Action News that Florida Cancer Specialists has 50-60 open clinical trials for cancer at any given time.
"So we have a large clinical trial program where medications that have perhaps been FDA approved for other types of cancer, and they're being studied in an alternative type of cancer, or new drugs that are just been developed," said Dr. Weaver.
But one of the many challenges doctors and patients face is finding a cure. Rodriguez advocates for funding policy as part of Congressional District 15.
"We need legislation, we need funding for research so that doctors like Dr. Weaver can provide cures for cancer, you know, they're the ones who are actively treating us and, you know, the more research and funding that we have, the better the outcome," said Rodriguez.
"It is not about me, it is about other people, it's about finding a cure. It is about my nieces and nephews, it's future generations. I don't want to see people suffering from cancer anymore. And, you know, it's like I say, you know, this month, everybody wears this pretty pink ribbon, but it stands for the pain and suffering of past present and future breast cancer patients and, you know, it's a community that is looking for a cure and like, we need a cure now. You know, we needed one yesterday and you know, we, we want to survive and we want to be active members of society.