Altagracia C Faces of Breast Cancer: Altagracia Cruz-Jones

I want my legacy to be fierce, strong and graceful.

A mother of seven children, Altagracia Cruz-Jones, 38 years old, doesn’t often have time alone. While in the shower, she felt something odd – not a lump, but like branches on a tree. Altagracia knew her body well enough to know that something was wrong. She immediately went to the doctor for further evaluation. Although others could not feel the branching that she felt, further examination and testing reveled breast cancer. This journey has made Altagracia fearless. She knew she couldn’t control a lot of what was happening around her, but the one thing she could control was how she dealt it – the manner in which she approached it, the trauma that she would allow herself to experience.

She refused to allow herself to be traumatized. Instead of waiting for her hair to fall out from chemotherapy, she took control. As a symbol of her strength, each of Altagracia’s seven children and her husband cut off a piece of her hair before her first treatment at The Cancer Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. For every subsequent treatment, Altagracia dressed up (wearing heels when she could) because when she looked good, she felt good. She didn’t want to look like she wasn’t going to conquer this.

Altagracia hopes to inspire others, “I want my legacy to be fierce, strong and graceful,” she says. “I want my children to understand that no matter what they face, they’ll be able to get through it – but remember in the process to do it gracefully, remember to be fierce and to stand on what you believe in.” Her message to others, “Live every moment, not because you have cancer, but because you’re living. What you do with what you have while you have it is what matters. I’m not weak because I have cancer, I’m actually so much stronger because I have cancer.”