Millie Lopez | City of Hope

2020 Walk for Hope: Meet Walker Millie Lopez-Snyder

For Millie Lopez-Snyder, 46, getting an annual mammogram has always been part of her health routine, particularly because her mother is a breast cancer survivor. In fact, Lopez-Snyder says she usually gets an ultrasound as well.
 
But when Lopez-Snyder gave birth to her only child in 2017, that yearly plan took a backseat to the baby. "I'm supposed to have my mammogram in December. But I didn't, I was just so busy with the baby. Then that January, I had an appendectomy — and I skipped that whole year.”
 
The following year, in January 2019, her mammogram and ultrasound were followed by a needle biopsy. "That is when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of HER2-positive breast cancer,” she recalled. “Ironically, the day I found out the diagnosis was the day after my birthday."

The logical place for treatment

There was naturally plenty of fear and worry for Lopez-Snyder and her family when she got that diagnosis, but one thing was easily decided. As the manager of laboratory outreach for City of Hope's Department of Pathology, Lopez-Snyder already appreciated the uniqueness of the place where she works. So after getting her cancer diagnosis at San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland, California, and second opinions at both City of Hope and UCLA Medical Center, Lopez-Snyder knew that City of Hope was the place she wanted to take her cancer journey.
 
"At City of Hope, the doctors treated me like I was a regular patient, not as someone who was dying," Lopez-Snyder said. "Dr. Mortimer is my primary doctor here, and she was very caring, especially when I met her for the very first time to find out what I need to do for the treatment. She was very sympathetic and realistic. She told me what needed to be done, and said it was going to be a hard road ahead."
 
Dr. Mortimer Specialist Story Image
Joanne Mortimer, M.D.
Joanne Mortimer, M.D., who is director of the Women's Cancers Program at City of Hope and the Baum Family Professor in Women's Cancers, as well as a professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, explained the two sides of a diagnosis of a “rapidly growing breast cancer."
 
"Because her cancer was HER2-positive, it's a much more curable cancer," Mortimer said, "but it involves some pretty intensive treatments. We identified that her cancer was only localized to the breast, which meant we used a chemotherapy that is pretty toxic. But the outcome for women like Millie with HER2-positive breast cancer is actually very favorable."
 
In February 2019, less than a month after her diagnosis, Lopez-Snyder began a series of six chemo treatments, each lasting eight hours or more, designed to halt her fast-moving cancer. As she lost her hair, suffered other side effects from the treatments, had a mastectomy and 16 more less-intensive chemo treatments, she kept on working in the Department of Pathology. It was there that she discovered she wasn't alone in her struggle.
 
"The support I had in my department was really instrumental in helping me get through it, especially when I found out that others in the department were prior cancer patients," she recalled. "I don’t think people realize how many cancer patients there are until you actually become one. You get so sensitive to it, and you start seeing other people wearing wigs, for example. People who have had cancer, we call it 'the inside club,' a club that no one really can get into unless you have it."

Joining Walk for Hope

Both Lopez-Snyder and Mortimer are strong supporters of City of Hope’s annual Walk of Hope, the fundraising effort for women’s cancers that happens every October. This year's Sunday, October 4, walk will be a virtual one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the goal is the same: to help City of Hope fund the fight against breast and gynecological cancers through research, treatment and education.
 
"There are so many aspects to the walk that are unique," Mortimer explained. "The overarching goal is that we raise money for breast and gynecologic research for City of Hope — and that's huge. But then there's the sort of humanistic component of the walk, which will be a little weird this year.
 
"When patients and their families come on campus, you get to see individuals who have beaten cancer, who are out and have gone through their surgery and their chemo and the radiation and whatever else. And their walking with their families is a success story. And then the other side of the coin is that you see people wearing shirts with names of patients that you may have taken care of, who sadly are not there to be able to walk again. It's a very emotional day."
 
It will be a day of joy for Lopez-Snyder and her family, including her now 3-year-old son. She participated in 2019 while still fighting to beat cancer; this year, thanks to her health care team at City of Hope, she'll be raising funds as a survivor.
 
"My port [to receive chemotherapy treatments] was removed on June 3, 2020," she said happily. "We are going to try to do an actual walk, with distancing, with our department — we hope. We have a goal in our department of trying to raise at least $30,000 this year. It's a great thing to be involved in."
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