WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A woman hasn’t let her personal struggle stand in her way of improving a challenging time for hundreds of others, and she needs your help to push forward during the greatest challenge of her own life.
Mariela Contreras stood in her kitchen, her sister Deniz Ozaltin by her side, surrounded by carefully stacked items.
“There’s cozy socks, there’s Chapstick, there’s a notebook that you can district yourself with,” Contreras said.
The two are preparing care packages for women they likely will never meet, who will receive the items on their first day of chemotherapy.
It was an experience that felt bewildering to Contreras, who was just 23 years old when she was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy treatments while also caring for her mother, who was battling lung cancer at the time.
“She’s really adamant about wanting to make a difference,” Ozaltin explained.
They call themselves Boobie Troopers. They gather the things that can make a world of emotional difference during the physical fight.
“You’re sad, you’re scared, you’re alone,” remembered Contreras.
At the time of her first diagnosis, Contreras had a strong and stoic attitude.
“No, no, no, I had cancer, had, had surgery, they removed it, didn’t claim it, didn’t accept it. And that’s it, I just continued on with you know, school, I continued on with life, taking care of my mom,” she said.
Past that stage, she was healthy enough to welcome a baby girl with her high school sweetheart using IVF, and life propelled forward.
In 2019, she experienced a new blow, and it was the first time Contreras faltered.
“I do believe there’s a God, He’s up there. I get mad, I get upset, I question, but I still believe. Yeah,” she said.
Metastatic cancer in her breasts had traveled to her lungs and her brain. Contreras is determined to fight through it.
“Not gonna lie, I question my faith so much. But um, I just hang on to it no matter what, you know?”
Contreras has persevered in her efforts with Boobie Troopers, which gathers products from the community, providing them to hundreds of women at four area hospitals in South Florida.
“Cancer is an ugly thing, I hate it. But I don’t believe that we should let it define us, you know, it shouldn’t put a hold on my life. Do I get upset at times that I can’t be running after my daughter. That I can’t live or be a normal mom. Cancer has taken definitely a lot of me. But it won’t stop me, it won’t break me,” she said.
She has found hundreds of women she’s helped have reached back out to help her.
“On social media, she posts everything, the good, the bad the ugly,” Ozaltin explained.
She’s found herself supported by others in the process.
“Every time I go in for a scan, I’m like, Boobie Troopers can we all assemble, say a prayer for me please?” she said.
She’s looking to the future, and hopeful the community will help keep her efforts going.
“I envision myself at my daughter’s wedding. I envision myself growing old with my husband. So, life continues. Yeah, for sure,” she said.
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