There’s busy, and there’s Elida Valdivia. With four sons ages 1, 3, 11 and 20, and a constant balancing act between work and motherhood, there’s rarely time left for anything else. But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she had no choice but to put herself first.

“I didn’t know much about cancer before it happened to me,” Valdivia said of her diagnosis. “I had heard some things on TV and in the community, but I was the first person in my family to get it, so it was scary. I didn’t know what to think.”

Fortunately, Valdivia’s cancer was caught at one of the earlier stages — stage 2. She sought treatment, which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. However, before she could finish her final course of treatment, Valdivia developed lymphedema — an unpleasant condition that sometimes occurs as a result of breast cancer surgery and can cause the arms to swell and throb. For Valdivia, her pain was so severe that she couldn’t even lift her arm.

“It hurt and made it very difficult to be with my kids,” she said. “I couldn’t even pick up my baby. I had to get help from my family.”

Valdivia was referred to Mollie Evers, a Sharp Chula Vista occupational therapist certified in treating lymphedema. Thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen San Diego, Sharp Chula Vista offers a comprehensive lymphedema program, including education, treatment and community resources. Evers used manual lymph drainage techniques to improve circulation in Valdivia’s affected arm, recommended and referred her for a compression garment and taught her treatment techniques she could do by herself at home.

After just a handful of treatment sessions, Valdivia is not only able to move her arm, but is mostly pain-free.

“She’s very kind and patient,” Valdivia said of her therapist. “She’s even learned how to speak my language [Spanish].”

Now in the home stretch toward full recovery, Valdivia couldn’t be more excited about being able to return to her balancing act.

“I just want to hold my kids and work again. That’s the best I could ask for.”

We admire the courage of all women who are surviving breast cancer. If you want to share your experiences with us, please contact: