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Latina pop star brings cultural awareness to breast cancer

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

Soraya: "It's been a big fight for me to have all of the information in Spanish. ... We all have to be a part of this community and in helping so that no woman gets left behind."

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(CNN) -- Every year, breast cancer strikes close to 200,000 women in America.

And in 2000, Latina pop star, Soraya, was one of them.

But even before her diagnosis, the singer was no stranger to breast cancer. Her mother, grandmother, and aunt all battled the disease. "It was something that was a constant in our family," she says.

Following her mother's death from complications related to breast cancer, Soraya became actively involved in breast cancer awareness organizations in an effort to spread the word about early detection, and the singer practiced what she preached.

In June 2000, while performing a self-breast exam, she made an alarming discovery.

"I picked up the phone and called my doctor. I still didn't panic until he sent me right away to see a specialist. And, I saw the word 'oncology' on that door. Within about five days I had the battery of tests that you usually get. You get bone scans, and brain scans, and cat scans ... to figure out the staging of your disease. My staging was a stage III."

According to the National Cancer Institute, stage III breast cancer is advanced, but has not yet metastasized to the rest of the body.

At first Soraya didn't understand what that meant. "And I said, what is it that I need to do to get through this?"

Soraya says she and her medical team settled on an aggressive treatment plan, which included traditional and holistic-based therapies. "It involved several rounds of chemotherapy, I had to have a mastectomy. I had reconstruction, hormonal treatment [and] I began doing meditation and yoga."

She has been very open about your personal experience. "When I was first diagnosed, I wanted to stay home behind closed doors and go through this. But when I realized how much was missing in outreach to the Hispanic community, I realized that if I could handle it, I would try to do something."

Three years after her diagnosis, and successful treatment, Soraya is back in the public eye, with a new album, and as spokeswoman for the campaign "Living With It," which is sponsored by a manufacturer of cancer medications.

The singer says one of her goals is to bring cultural awareness to breast cancer campaigns. "It's been a big fight for me to have all of the information in Spanish. Make sure your community outlets are culturally sensitive. Not just to Hispanics, but to African-Americans, to Asian-Americans. We all have to be a part of this community and in helping so that no woman gets left behind."

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