— Ann Estrada, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer, needs help paying for her chemotherapy treatments.
The pill bottles are lined up on the side table, within Ann Estrada’s reach. There are the steroids to combat the fluid in her lungs. There’s the medicine to fight the nausea that follows the frequent injections to stimulate the bone marrow to make white blood cells. There are the pills for acid reflux, the pills to control her pain, the anti-anxiety medicine she takes to help deal with the stress of fighting Stage 4 breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones and lung.
Estrada, a New Jersey transplant and Winter Garden resident for 12 years, is in the fight of her life after finding a lump in her breast in July. Based on the size of the tumor, doctors told her she had Stage 2 cancer. She had scans done, and once they found it in her lymph nodes, they knew it had spread. It is now considered Stage 4.
The 41-year-old has been under the knife three times since the summer — for a lumpectomy, for a procedure to remove the lymph nodes and for removal of the axillary nodes under her arm. After the first surgery, she had back spasms so bad she couldn’t get out of bed. After the third surgery, she was unable to bend at all.
Estrada said she would be taking chemotherapy treatments for at least a year, but that won’t mean the end of medication. The cancer has spread to her tailbone, hip, one rib, both femurs and her skull.
“Once it’s in the bones, it’s incurable,” she said. “I will be tested and on drugs for the rest of my life.”
Estrada’s ongoing medical trauma started about 14 years ago. She ended up on permanent disability after a benign tumor was removed from her ankle and she had difficulty walking. Cold weather was affecting her health, so she and her partner, Gregg McKeown, packed everything and moved to Florida.
Disney fanatics, they wanted to live in the Central Florida area so they would be close to the theme parks. They settled in a neighborhood on County Road 535 in Winter Garden, the back road to Disney.
Once Estrada was diagnosed with cancer, though, the visits to Disney stopped, as did the little vacations she and McKeown frequently took. They had to cancel a cruise they had planned for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
A walker sits near the sofa for her to use on her worst days. She tries to get outside every day for a lap or two around the block in her neighborhood, but she’s in pain and constantly fatigued. Right now, she’s trying to stay awake and trying to stay warm. Puzzles are her main source of entertainment.
When she started chemotherapy, she shaved her hair as low as possible.
“I wanted something I could control,” she said. “It takes the power out of the cancer.”
It is starting to come back, but all she has to do is rub her hand over her head and the little bit of hair that is there comes out.
McKeown, who normally wears his hair at his shoulders, shaved his head, too.
Estrada has completely changed her diet, too, in an effort to further combat the cancer.
“I’m a steak and potatoes kind of gal,” she said.
But now her meals consist of fruits and vegetables and shakes. She drinks a minimum of 120 ounces of water every day. Their families send fruit baskets and other care packages. Starbucks green tea is a treat.
Chemo treatments come every three weeks, at a cost of $25,000 each. Medicare pays 80% of her medical expenses, but she is still responsible for the remainder, and her fixed income doesn’t stretch far, she said.
Her medical bills are at $175,000 and rising with each lab test, scan and medication.
To make a donation to help with Estrada’s increasing medical expenses, visit the couple’s fundraising page, gfwd.at/1yPejdy, or send checks to Ann Estrada, 2285 Wintermere Pointe Drive, Winter Garden, Florida 34787.
Estrada divides her life by medical issues. Before, when she was healthy, she worked as a retail store manager. Before, she was athletic and ran, biked and played soccer.
“I used to say, ‘before the ankle’ and ‘after the ankle,’ Estrada said. “Now there’s an ‘after cancer.’”