TAMPA, Fla. - Lavita Rodriguez won't allow obstacles to get in her path towards advocating for others. The 36-year-old is studying to be a lawyer and plans to practice health care and human rights law.
But she's had setbacks, starting with a car accident in 2008 that left her paralyzed.
"It's been a really tough road," said Rodriguez.
She could not have imagined at the time that a larger battle was yet to come. In 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"With metastatic breast cancer, you receive treatment and then you get a scan and if the disease has progressed then you switch treatments and it's an ongoing thing. You don't get a break. I did eight rounds of chemotherapy. I've done a bilateral mastectomy. I did radiation," she recalled. "This journey is ongoing and it feels more life-threatening than my paraplegia ever has."
She has a small, decorated tree in her room that she said signifies hope and faith. Among the ornaments is a nod to one of her legal inspirations, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"RBG lost her life to cancer. She stood for justice. She stood for using your voice and the importance of using your voice," said Rodriguez.
Today Rodriguez is speaking out on behalf of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network.
"We meet with lawmakers. We hold them responsible. We lobby for funding for research, for prevention," she explained. "They say that 5% of breast cancers are being found in younger women but I believe that number would be a lot higher if we were screening at a younger age."
She said the October Making Strides events are a way of bonding with breast cancer survivors and those still in the fight, like her.
"The pretty pink ribbon that everyone wears during that month for me stands for the pain and suffering of past, present, and future. It's a community that's looking and searching for a cure and they are supporting every effort as far as screenings, funding, policy. We need legislation we need new developments in cancer treatments and we do that by participating in Making Strides," said Rodriguez.
She's moving towards her next chapter with strength and determination.
"My feeling is that I want to live, that I want to continue to travel the world, that I was put on this earth to help others every sense of my life," said Rodriguez.
The American Cancer Society Making Strides in-person walks will return in October. Sign-up is underway for the events, raising awareness and funding for breast cancer research and programs.
Below are the walks and dates in the Tampa Bay area:
- October 2 - Raymond James Stadium - Tampa (Hillsborough)
- October 9 - The Shops at Wiregrass - Wesley Chapel (Pasco)
- October 9 - Lake Mirror Promenade - Lakeland (Polk)
- October 16 - Nathan Benderson Park - Sarasota (Sarasota/Manatee)
To sign up, visit www.MakingStridesWalk.org/Tampa