Ups and downs

March 20th, 2014

This season the Bronc women’s tennis team has made program history by achieving the longest winning streak, six matches, breaking the previous record of five in 2008. Despite the record-breaking achievement, the team has had its ups and downs this season.

The record comes at a time when the Broncs are facing all new opponents as they travel through the Western Athletic Conference ranks. Despite the unfamiliar ground, the team surpassed the wins record March 9 by defeating the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns with a score of 4-1.

According to senior Wanda Beguelin, nothing will change from here on out. They plan to play just as they always have, record or no record.

“I think it gives us more confidence,” the French native said. “Winning all of these matches in a row motivates everyone in the team to practice harder and keep winning.”

But, just as the team was reveling in its success, it took a loss to the Nicholls State University Colonels March 12, ending the streak. Since then it has been a roller coaster ride as the Broncs gained a win against Oral Roberts University March 13 then a loss to the University of Texas at San Antonio March 16.

Coach Stephanie Vallejos knows the teams the Broncs played have been tough, but she insists this is the only factor that affects the season’s outcome  and she is happy that her team has overcome and done well.

“With each match the team gets tougher,” Vallejos said. “But it’s in all the traveling that I have seen us really step up and play stronger. They have learned how to come together the best when we are on the road competing, and our on court communication has helped us see more success.”

With the team moving toward the end of the season, Beguelin has attributed their success so far to her team’s willingness to work and to the cohesion she has with her teammates.

“This year’s team has played with motivation,” said Beguelin, whose record in singles is 2-3. “They each have a goal and they’re constantly reminding themselves of what they are working for when we practice, and especially, (when we) compete. I’m proud of the work ethic we have and this year it’s finally starting to pay off.”

Currently, the Broncs are holding on to a 12-6 season record with only one match left against the University of the Incarnate World at home March 21. Soon comes the WAC Conference Championships in Las Cruces, N.M. April 25-27.

With the championships on the horizon, Vallejos explained that though they only have a short time left on the court, she knows her team has trained hard and has gained a sense of accomplishment. Now all that’s left is to move forward.

“The team has worked really hard and has made a great effort at helping each other improve,” Vallejos said. “With each match this season they’ve gained a sense of mental toughness. If we can continue to play together and fight for each other as a team we should end the season strong.”

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Drawing the line

February 6th, 2014

For all of the victims affected by sexual assault, President Barack Obama has officially given them a voice in the White House.

The president issued a Presidential Memorandum Jan. 22 to establish a “White House Task Force” to protect students from sexual assault. Representatives from the Office of the Vice President and White House Council on Women and Girls have appointed this task force of leaders. The president is giving the group 90 days to compile the best practices on increasing enforcement, awareness and interagency coordination to prevent rape and sexual violence on college campuses nationwide. Once these findings are reported, they will be shared with 4,500 colleges and universities in the nation and further action will be decided upon by administrators.

Accompanying this order was the White House Council on Women and Girls’ report, entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” The report found that one in five women – totaling 22 million- experienced rape in their college years.

Although women are most at risk for sexual assault, the study also found that 1 in 71 men- a total of 1.6 million -experience it in their college years as well. On top of this, it was also found that of these cases, 12 percent of all student victims reported their assault and  80 to 90 percent of cases involved acquaintances of the victims.

Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin spoke of the positive impact this national initiative would have on students at UTPA.

“I think it’s good overall and I think it’s important that the president and the Department of Education place a high importance on campus safety,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Of course, I think all of us want to see the elimination of rape and sexual assault. The hard part about it is the regulations and how they’re written and their enforcement, and the mechanisms to report all of that hasn’t really been firmly established in our infrastructure, and this will resolve that.”

Fuentes-Martin stated that national committees are currently looking over mandates on how to respond to cases, what definitions of sexual assault have changed or not changed and if enough is being done to promote safety. The Dean of Students also elaborated on why students don’t always come forward with their cases.

“The main reason is that student victims suffer from shame and guilt,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Why don’t they come forward? It’s because they’re scared of the suspect, scared of telling their families, scared of being blamed, scared of all of these things and one of the things that is most important for us is to educate them more and provide outreach for our students about the options that they have in case something does happen to them.”

As for student reactions, sophomore Giselle Buentello commented on the president’s special attention to the topic.

“I think it’s generous on his part to think about such a small group,” said the dance performance major. “He’s trying to generalize and fix a problem that most people don’t pay attention to.”

Junior Cathleen Pompa also spoke of the attention given to this issue and about positive outcomes that can come from the task force.

“It makes sense to help out with the universities and especially with the rape victims that have been affected, so that we can make sure it won’t happen again,” said the English major. “Especially in this generation, you never know who you can trust and who is safe to be around. It’s all about the safety of the students and to make sure that we feel safe and comfortable to come to school every day, so it’ll help us, definitely in that sense.”

According to statistical records from 2012, there have been two reports of sexual assault at UTPA in the 2011-2012 academic year. Currently, students who experience rape or sexual assault on campus have the option of pursuing justice criminally or through the student conduct system. Through the criminal process, students can file charges through the district attorney and have their day in court.

Through the University, the case will be investigated by the dean of students and disciplinary action will take place if the charge is found to be a credible one. The options can be pursued simultaneously.

After a crime has been committed, students can go to the University Police, Counseling and Psychological Services or Student Health Services to report the offense. These practices and services will more than likely be strengthened with the president’s initiative.

UTPA is currently educating students on this subject through the police department’s defensive training program, residence hall outreach, and collaborations like the Coalition Against Violence Exploitation. This project is shared between citizens and businesses from the Rio Grande Valley, the Pan American Collaboration for Ethics and Professors and UTPA and aims to eliminate violence against women.

Further education is planned for March with events such as Safety On Week, held the week before Spring Break, to provide students with information about protecting themselves in dangerous situations. The week will also include the play Sex Signals, a two-person improvisational show of educational skits on dating and sexual violence.

Fuentes-Martin hopes this initiative will help in stopping these crimes, further educating students on how to protect themselves in the process.

“We do some things, but we could definitely do more,” Fuentes-Martin said. “Our first concern is going to be that the physical and mental welfare of the student is addressed, and we’re trying to evaluate our current programs and see what we can improve to what we offer to our students.”

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Sports updates

January 23rd, 2014

Screen Shot 2014 01 22 at 11.47.11 PM 247x300 Sports updatesScreen Shot 2014 01 22 at 11.49.48 PM 300x116 Sports updates

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UTPA’s regional performance

October 24th, 2013

In Waco, the Broncs men’s tennis team started well at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regionals with senior Victor Alves and sophomore Mauricio Fosado copping victories in the opening round of 128 Oct. 16. Both lost in the round of 64 along with Alejandro Sanoja and Chetan Panditi at the Hurd Tennis Center.

Head Coach Brandon Stokes said he feels optimistic and still believes in his team.

“We are on the cusp of our doubles clicking at the right time in the fall,” he said. “When our singles stabilizes to a consistently high standards.”

Alves defeated University of Texas-Arlington’s Juan-Pablo Farah 6-2 and 6-1 in the Main Draw round of 128, but then was beat in the round of 64 by TCU’s Will Stein 6-1 and 6-2 in the Main Draw.

Fosado opened up with a three-set win over University of Rice’s David Warren 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5) but then fell to UT-Arlington’s Austin Robles 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in the Main Draw round of 64.

In doubles, Alejandro Sanoja teamed up with Sebstien Job to defeat Abilene Christian’s team Nico Agritelley and Jason Proctor 8-3 in the Main Draw round of 64, but Sanoja and Job then lost to University of Texas at Austin Lloyd Glasspool and Soren Hess-Olesen 8-4 in the Main Draw round of 32.

Sanoja, who recently finished second at the Ron Wesbrooks Invitational, said the energy in his performance in singles and doubles was great.

“I felt good about my chances at regionals,” Sanoja said. “I know that my teammates will be there to support me on and off the court which will give me confidence to perform at my best at all times. I want to do my best for my teammates, my coach, for UTPA and for myself.”

The women’s tennis team played Oct. 17 in Fort Worth.

Freshman Mariana Ranzahuer led the Broncs women’s tennis team on day two of the ITA Regionals with a singles win on Friday at the Baynard H. Friedman Tennis Center.

After receiving a bye, a round where she advances without play, consolation round of 64, Ranzahuer defeated Sam Houston State’s Natalie Petaia 6-3, 6-1 in the consolation round of 32.

Senior Wanda Beguelin led the women’s team with a win in the opening round of 128 at the ITA Regionals Oct. 17.

Also in the round of 128, newcomer Ranzahuer was defeated by Texas Tech’s Rashami Teltumbde 6-4, 6-0. Didi Fatchikova fell to Texas A&M University’s Paula Deheza 6-2, 6-1 and new face Christel Amsallem also lost in two straight sets to Sam Houston State University Vaszilisza Bulgakova 6-0, 6-1.

Beguelin defeated University of Incarnate Word’s Andi Botha 6-2, 6-2 in the round of 128 to advance to the round of 64. Beguelin couldn’t keep the momentum and fell to Baylor University’s Alex Leatu 6-2, 6-1.

Ranzahuer faced UT Austin’s player Pippa Horn Oct. 17 with the winner moving on to the consolation quarterfinals later in the day. Ranzahuer was defeated by Horn 6-1, 6-2 in the consolation round of 16.

In the doubles bracket, Beguelin and Ranzahuer failed to win against Texas Tech’s team of Sam Czarnika and Beatriz Santos 8-2, in the opening round of 64.

The Broncs women are back in action Oct. 26 at the Texas State Play Day in San Marcos.

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Frontera Liquida

March 26th, 2013

Frontera Liquida, a Spanish-language UTPA theatre group, emphasizes the importance of bringing the performing arts to the Spanish-speaking community in the Rio Grande Valley.

Frontera Liquida, or Liquid Border, presented El andar del teatro en Español en una mirada, an exhibition of photographs of performances by the theatrical group, as a part of FESTIBA. Additionally, they presented Spanish language version of “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler.

This exhibition, which translates to A Walk-Through of Spanish Theatre at a Glance, took place at the Library lobby March 20 at 6:30 p.m. During the event, students and staff walked around, observing the photographs and costumes of the most relevant parts of several plays performed by Frontera Liquida during the previous years, including their most recent performance “Monologos de la Vagina,” directed by associate professor Edna Ochoa, that took place March 19. Additionally, the theatrical group answered questions and listened to comments from students regarding their performances.

“The group, and the plays performed by the group, are intended to create a sense of reflection and dialogue,” said Edna Ochoa, member of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. “Frontera Liquida’s name comes from the water. Water has no barriers or boundaries. Unfortunately, there are parents and grandparents out there that, perhaps, do not have access to this form of art because it is almost never presented in Spanish”.

Ochoa added that the number of performances a year usually depend on the amount of events in which the theatrical group fits, meaning there is not much space available for plays to be presented in Spanish at UTPA. Ochoa also said that the reason the works in Spanish are not as exposed as works in English is because in the Valley, she feels published works are usually in English, even though the area is mainly Spanish-speaking.

“I believe this is a very good group because they communicate in Spanish to a society that identifies perfectly with the language,” said Cesar Rosales, a student at the photography exhibition.

Frontera Liquida has a designated time for community dialogue after every event. This time is used to communicate issues that affect Spanish speaking communities.

“Excellent plays; they are an excellent group,” said Sergio Vera, a student present at the photography exhibition. “The messages that they are giving the audience are very important, and more if the community can get those messages in Spanish, their native language.”

Ochoa and participants from the Department of Modern Languages and Literature invite anybody that is interested to joining their group. Also, Ochoa holds theatrical workshops for UTPA Spanish group Híjole, on Fridays at 12:30 p.m., ARHU building in room 351. More information on Frontera Liquida can be found through ednaochoa@hotmail.com or lochoa4@utpa.edu.

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Digital attraction

February 14th, 2013

Nursing major Sarah Christensen’s death brought her and boyfriend Luis Escalante together. Had he not resurrected her, they might have never met.

Four years ago, while attempting to complete quests as a character for the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Fiesta, Christensen found she was out of her element.

“It was my first MMO and I sucked really, really bad,” the 22-year-old recalled with a laugh. “I died so I needed someone to come resurrect me. So he came by, resurrected me and then he left.”

An MMO allows people from all over the world to play the same game and interact with each other in real time. While Christensen was gaming from Morgan Hill, Calif., Escalante was in Hidalgo.

Over the next couple of days, the two met up within the game and began to talk to each other via typed chat.

“From there, basically there’s only been a span of about three days that we didn’t talk in the beginning because he was busy,” the sophomore said. “But other than that, for four years now, not even a single day has gone by that we haven’t talked.”

After about two years of communicating through phone, video chat and spending a total of three weeks together in person, Christensen moved to the Valley the summer of 2010 to be with Escalante. Since then she has been a resident of Hidalgo, living with 23-year-old Escalante, and his mother.

“I can’t imagine anything without him. My entire future is planned with him,” Christensen said of her junior biology major boyfriend. “We’ve gone through a lot of stuff together. Living with him has made us closer.”

 

NEW TERRITORY

With this generation’s popularity of social media and online gaming, human interaction has extended throughout different mediums. Online dating is a means of meeting people when the girl next door has been whisked away or the eligible bachelors at the club have lost their luster.

More than twice as many couples that married in 2009 met through online dating services than at a club or social event, according to a 2010 article in The Washington Post.

“It’s something different and a whole new experience,” said Alamo native and senior Randy Garcia, who had a two-year relationship with a girl he met online. “I wanted to see what the fuss was about and gain the knowledge of something that I thought I would never do…curiosity got the best of me.”

The 25-year-old used websites such as Myspace, Plenty of Fish and Facebook. Although a relationship blossomed from his online endeavors, he knows caution must be taken.

“There are always downfalls to things like that,” Garcia said. “Sometimes you have to be aware about people who are catfish and that’s creepy.”

The term “catfish,” a person who creates a false online identity, was coined in 2010 when a documentary by the same name came out. It followed a relationship between a man and a woman who met online, but after investigation the man found the woman had fabricated her identity.

While Garcia’s relationship ended, he admits he would give online dating another shot, unlike 20-year-old McAllen native Doris Valdez, who flatly said never again.

“I met a few people, but it’s not the same as real-life dating. In meeting face to face, you had to have a social connection first,” said the senior art education major who signed up with site OKcupid. “(With) online dating, these people are presented to you without context. You’re meeting a total stranger with no social connection and that’s not a good way to meet someone.”

Biology and theater performance major Karen Rice has a vastly different opinion than Valdez.

Rice is a 29-year-old Springfield, Ohio native who found a relationship through the MMORPG World of Warcraft in 2008. Like Christensen, Rice began a relationship by chance with someone out of state through the gaming world.

After about four months of flirtation, Rice and her now former boyfriend made their relationship official and were together for two years. Though the couple could only initially interact through technological outlets, Rice believes it was an experience that person-to-person interaction couldn’t grant.

“I think it’s better to not meet someone face to face at first because then you’re going off of somebody’s personality and not what they look like,” she said. “If you don’t know what someone looks like then I think you get to know them a little better because you’re not wrapped up in the looks of someone. You actually get to know their personality.”

As far as what it’s like when finally meeting up with the person who has been primarily composed of pixels on a screen, Christensen went through her own battles with Escalante.

No longer able to hide reactions, facial expressions and mannerisms, she was taken aback after first moving in with Escalante and his mother, but found a better outcome.

“You have to kind of get to know them all over again because the way you are online is a little more selective,” she said. “It’s like your perfect vision of that person is not there, but the reward is that you get to actually know the person that you’re with for who they truly are.”

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Women in combat

January 31st, 2013

News straight out of the Pentagon Thursday brought the lifting of a 1994 ban on women in military combat positions.

Close to home, the news caused a stir at the University.

“I think the decision is going to be effective,” said Lt. Col. Alfred Silva, a UTPA military science professor. “Women are already performing combat duties, so all this does is open up more opportunities for women who have the abilities to fill gaps within the ranks.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, along with the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, announced the rescission of the 1994 Direct Ground and Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.

The announcement will erase a ban that has kept women from serving in various positions, such as infantry, armory, artillery and other combat roles, along with eliminating gender-based barriers to the service.

At a press conference Jan. 24, Panetta shared his reasons behind the move.

“Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles,” Panetta said.

Over the course of both the War in Iraq, which started in 2003, and the War in Afghanistan, which began shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, there have been more than 280,000 women deployed. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, women make up 14 percent, or 202,400, of the military’s 1.4 million active personnel.

Silva has been an active service member of the Army’s aviation branch for 20 years.

“This decision will allow women to fill positions with more responsibility, perhaps even commanding positions. It will open up a wide range of career opportunities for them,” he said.

The presence of women in the military is nothing new. Although they had been kept from combat career paths, many still served as either truck drivers, military police, field medics or Army aviation aircrew members.

In some of those positions, combat was a very real threat.

“As far as the current state, I know a lot of girls who have been put in combat situations, such as driving in convoys which are often hit,” said Frank Martinez, a 29-year-old dietetics and rehabilitation major who served in the Army. “I think the big push for that comes from the women’s side in that they are doing it already.”

When it comes to the dangers women already face while serving in the military, such as when in a convoy, Samuel Perez, a 30-year-old psychology major who served in the Air Force, stated that women are trained to defend themselves.

“As soon as they get hit, that’s it,” he said. “That is a small battle, and they’ve already been trained to pick up their guns and fight.”

There are also female engagement teams, programs started by the U.S. Marine Corps nearly a decade ago. The teams were created because male soldiers are prohibited from looking at or interacting with any Afghan women they encounter on patrols due to the cultural norms of Afghanistan. In order to interact with the female population, the marines established special teams consisting of servicewomen who have volunteered for the program.

Despite these exceptions women already faced while serving, Sabrina Sanchez, a 30-year-old psychology major who served in the Army, recognized that this announcement will bring about a difference in what women are allowed to do while deployed.

“Women weren’t even allowed to leave the gate,” Sanchez said. “Of course, if they were pilots or truck drivers they could, but I remember one time they asked for volunteers, and at that time I felt like they automatically went to the men.”

Sanchez served stateside and overseas as an aviation operations specialist. She was stationed in Hawaii for 11 months, and after coming back from a six-month maternity leave, joined up with her unit in 2007 that had deployed to Iraq. Her duties involved scheduling of flights, as well as maintenance of flight records. She is currently the UTPA ROTC Cadet Battalion commander.

There are currently 66 cadets enrolled in the ROTC program, about half female, according to Silva, who added that the program holds the same standards for women as it does for men.

Panetta gave the various departments of the military until May 15 to submit detailed inclusion plans for the integration of women. The secretary plans for the process to be completed by the beginning of 2016.

 

MAKING THE CUT 

With the announcement on Thursday came concerns that women may not be able to meet the standards that have been expected of men in the military, both physically and emotionally.

“I think it’s great that women will have equality in the military, but again, women are psychologically different,” said Danielle Birne, a public relations major who served in the Army. “I don’t know what the ramifications of that will be. They’d also have to be able to do the same things as men, physically.”

However, Silva believes that the standards for recruitment would resolve the issue.

“It will all be based on gender-neutral criteria. If she isn’t able to meet the standards, then she wouldn’t be there in the first place,” he said. “That goes with the psychological aspect as well. If she is strong enough and has the will now, she will have the will in a combat unit.”

 

RISKY BUSINESS 

Cadet Mayela Ramirez was excited when she heard the news, but understood the reality of the announcement.

“It was a bittersweet feeling to find out,” the 20-year-old from Mission said. “The bad part is that it’s just scary to be considered for the frontlines.”

In a report released by the congressional research service in 2012, there have been 4,475 American soldier casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 110 of which have been women. In the war in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom, there have been 1,915 American soldiers killed, 34 women.

And death is not the only threat for women in the military. In 2010 there were 3,158 reports of sexual assault in the military and only 529 of them went to trial, according to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. Also, the report estimates that this statistic only represents 13.5 percent of total assaults in 2010.

These facts don’t faze Angelica Montano, though.

“There might be rapes, but we can defend ourselves,” said the freshman from Pharr, a member of the ROTC. “It’s getting better because there are now training programs inside the army that help prevent these things from happening.”

Despite all of this, Sanchez still feels that this decision is fair and helps equalize women.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “Me, I’m already 30. I think (the decision) is more for the younger gals, but I’m happy for all of us. If one makes it through, we all make it.”

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Rolleristas open 2013 season with exibition bout

January 14th, 2013

The South Texas Rolleristas held a STR Mixed Exhibition Bout to kick off the 2013 roller derby season. The exhibition bout was used to test the fresh meat. The veteran players stayed on the bench until the second half of play. The Rolleristas were split up into two teams, Kiss v. Disco.

The Rolleristas, established 2006, are separated into three interleague teams: Fallout Brigade, Traumakazes and Nerdcore, and use the home games to fundraise for the STR travel team. This bout also worked as a fundraiser for the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank, as people brought in cans for reduced ticket prices.

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Tourney ahead, 
winner 
aboard

November 15th, 2012

The Broncs (10-18), who have had the best record since the 2007 season, are gearing up for the Great West Conference Tournament Friday and Saturday in Utah.

Head Coach Brian Yale used these last few home practices to fine-tune a few kinks within the team. He believes their side out game hasn’t been as effective as it was earlier in the season.

“We can take care of that first ball on our side and then slow down the other teams on their first ball swings,” Yale said. “We’re willing to rally, we’re capable of rallying, and that’ll keep us in a few more points here and there. It’s a side out game on both sides.”

First, the Broncs will face the GWC No. 2 Utah Valley University on Friday. According to Yale, the Wolverines (16-8, 7-1 GWC) are a big, tall, strong team that like to hit and block.

“If we can get the ball past the block more consistently then we’re going to keep ourselves in the match and have a great opportunity to win,” Yale said. “I think we match up pretty well, we just didn’t play as well as we could the last time we were out there, so we get another shot at that, which is good.”

The first time these two opponents faced off, it was taken to five. Backed up by 406 fans in the bleachers, the Broncs took the first two sets, but ultimately dropped the match 3-2. According to team captain Juri Franzen, the team wants revenge for that night, because they came so close to winning.

“When we play a good team we play really good also. It helps us out and we have just got to keep working hard at practice- keep having the energy we’ve been having this week because we’ve been doing really well,” Franzen said. “If we are all in, on the same page and leave everything on the court, we should come out with the win for sure.”

Although the Broncs are entering the tourney following a loss, libero Franzen is leading the team with recently earned honors and accolades.

The senior broke into the top 10 in career digs (948) and leads the 20+ digs matches with 16. Franzen was also named GWC Defensive Player of the week, Tuesday morning due to her 71 digs in the past three games.

“It was my second time making it so, you know, it’s a good way to end regular conference play you know,” Franzen said. “It keeps me motivated to kick ass.”
Coach Yale believes, had Franzen been here four years instead of two, she could have accomplished even more and build on her record. He understands how vital Franzen has been to the program and is working on finding her replacement.

“She’s done a great job for us in the two years that she’s had, and I’m looking forward to a great weekend for her,” Yale said. “All those individual things are great, but I know she’d love to hang a banner in the gym and get the championship ring and all that, so that’s our goal.”

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‘This is what a survivor looks like’

October 4th, 2012

Clad in bright pink, Ninfa Ramirez sits behind her large desk at Lack’s Furniture in McAllen, where she is a store manager. Photographs of family and friends hang on the walls of her office, and awards adorning the shelf behind her show dedication to work. By looking at her, it might not be possible to tell that she is one of the estimated 192,370 women who have been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, she agreed to share her story.

DARK MOMENT
While performing a self-test in fall of 2009, Ramirez found a small lump in her breast, which sent her into shock and instant denial. Her husband urged her to go to the doctor, where a biopsy was performed, and on Oct. 18 of that year, she received the results.

“‘You have cancer. And it’s aggressive,’” she recalled the doctor saying. “Then he offered me prayer, and we prayed. And then I cried thinking, ‘What next?’”

The mother of two, 50 at the time, found herself more concerned with how her family would accept the diagnosis, especially daughter Gina Villarreal, who was attending Texas A&M-College Station at the time.

“My first thought was ‘how do I get home?,’” Gina recalled. “We knew about the lump, she was getting tested but it wasn’t confirmed. We thought it was a cyst. So it definitely wasn’t anything we were expecting. My heart is at home, so I knew my place was to go home.”

After research, exploration of options, and discussion with her husband and family, Ramirez came to the decision that she would have a complete mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. It seemed that each surgery brought on some sort of complication, so the Peñitas native underwent four surgeries total.

“After a year, the oncologist that tested my tumor said that the possibility for me to get a reoccurrence of cancer is high. The best thing to do was chemotherapy,” Ramirez said.

Before she began chemo treatment, Ramirez had to take five medications for about a year. A port-a-catheter was inserted into her chest, which was hooked up to an IV tube filled with liquid. The Lack’s employee remembers feeling fine at first, but then was hit with what seemed like a severe flu days later. The effects of the chemo also included burning in her nose, and hair loss.

During the 13 weeks of treatment, she had good days and those where she couldn’t find the strength to get out of bed. Her white blood count would get so low that she had to check into a hospital three times. During one of these emergencies, everyone around Ramirez had to wear masks to protect her from infection and possible death, since her body could not fight for itself.

Visits and support from co-workers and family made all the difference in her life during this dark time. Ramirez came to refer to her daughter as her “chemo buddy,” because she accompanied her to every single treatment.

Other cancer patients who realized that Ramirez was new to chemotherapy reached out and offered soothing advice. For Ramirez, the words were comforting; it made her realize that she wasn’t the only one going through cancer, and made it easier to endure. It was there, in the chemotherapy ward, that Ninfa Ramirez found a sense of community.

“So within ourselves, we motivated each other, we encouraged each other, we prayed for each other,” Ramirez asserted.

Along with the newfound unity, Ramirez became self-empowered during her treatment. When her hair began to fall out, she went to the American Cancer Society with a request.

“Shave it off. The woman looked at me wondering if I was sure about this, and I said shave it off,” Ramirez firmly stated. “I’m not gonna let it decide when it’s gonna fall on its own time, I’m gonna have control over it.”

With the American Cancer Society, her family and co-workers, Ramirez found that she had support literally wherever she went. Within a year after chemo, her hair grew back, along with a newfound sense of purpose.

‘WALKING ADVOCATE’
Villarreal attributes her family’s survival through this difficult time largely in part to the fact that her mother was, and still is, an active advocate for breast cancer research. As soon as she learned of different ways to promote awareness, Ramirez kept herself and those around her at the forefront of the cause.

“Cancer never dies, it never sleeps, it does not regard gender, age, poor, or rich. It doesn’t. It affects all ages,” Ramirez stated. “All we can do is help provide funds so that they can keep testing and maybe one day find a cure.”

With this mission in mind, Ramirez has done as much as is in her power to raise funds for cancer research. Instead of working on an individual level, she and her Lack’s family fundraise as a corporate office.

“We get together and celebrate that there is life after cancer. You just become a big family,” Ramirez noted.

The activities include an upcoming Zumbathon on Oct. 20 at the McAllen Galleria, a plate sale at the Rio Grande City store, and ongoing T-shirt sales of shirts which bear the names of those affected by cancer in the Lack’s family.

All of the proceeds gathered from these events go straight to the American Cancer Society. In 2011, Ramirez and her team were able to raise $2,000 for the cause.

Relay For Life is the event in which cancer patients, survivors, and supporters celebrate unity and the gift of life.

The night before the relay, all collected donations are turned in. The event begins on Saturday at 6 p.m., which signifies the dark moment when you’re told you have cancer. It ends early the next morning, to signify the light of a better day. The first lap is walked by survivors and their keepers, and the second lap is walked by all team members and volunteer supporters. The next relay is set to take place at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium in Rio Grande City on October 27.

Throughout the night there is entertainment, barbecue, and a spirit stick competition, to name a few activities. The whole time, groups take turns walking, to signify that cancer never sleeps.

“We went through the storm, survived it, and now we’re walking tall,” Ramirez said.

LIGHT OF A BETTER DAY
Villarreal has learned much about her mother during this time, and about what she is capable of.

“I had no clue that superheroes came in the forms of mothers,” she noted with pride. “Nobody thinks of their mothers like that. But seeing your mother go through everything mine did, and coming out on top and not complaining about it and still thinking about you first… I don’t know. Those are superhero qualities to me.”

For the families of those with cancer, there is advice from one who was there through it all:

“I think the number one reason cancer patients die is not because of chemo or radiation, it’s because internally, they’ve given up,” she said. “You have to love on them even when they’re frustrated and angry, when they’re sick. At that point that’s all you could do. Never stop loving on them.”

Three years, four surgeries, countless hours of chemo, and many wigs, beanies and scarves later, Ninfa Ramirez is currently in remission and good health. She has a more focused outlook on life, an excellent attitude and a special message for women who have recently been diagnosed:

“The more informed you are, the better decisions you make,” she pointed out. “And it’s not the end of the world. Before you would just die, but now there are so many options and treatments. You have to pick the best one for you. Support yourself with your family. It goes a long way. Don’t be afraid. There’s support out there, you just need to look for it.”

In her office, Ramirez proudly lifts a framed photograph of herself, when her hair was just beginning to grow back after chemotherapy.

“I’m a survivor, and this is what a survivor looks like,” she concluded.

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