RUPERT — When Alma Bettancourt was told by her doctor in August that lumps in her left breast were cancerous, she was nearly paralyzed with fear.
Now just weeks later but already finishing her second round of chemotherapy, the Rupert single mother of three is living day to day and focusing on the positive aspects of her life.
Sometimes, though, when stillness settles around her, the fears overtake her and Bettancourt worries about paying the bills and losing her life — and what will happen to her young children if she dies.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I’m the sole provider for our family. I never imagined at 33 that I’d have breast cancer.”
At first, Bettancourt, who goes by Aidee, felt only a single lump in her left breast and she wasn’t too worried. She’d had a physical about five months prior and was told she was healthy. Her only other symptom prior to her diagnosis was feeling unusually tired.
All women, she said, should get lumps they find anywhere on their bodies checked out.
“It’s better to go in and get it checked rather than worry,” she said. “Listen to your body.”
After the first round of tests, she was called in by her doctor for a biopsy.
She was at work the day her doctor called and said she had to come in to the office right away.
“I figured it was something really bad so I went in with a friend,” Bettancourt said.
The doctor told her she had ductal carcinoma, stage three, that had spread to her lymph nodes. She has five large tumors and some smaller ones.
“My first reaction was, I’m going to die,” Bettancourt said. “I was really freaking out.”
Because Bettancourt does not have many family members in the area, except a sister and an uncle, her friend Veronica Ruiz of Burley checks in on her daily.
“I went through another type of cancer, but I had my family around me,” Ruiz said. “I can’t imagine not having that. I’m glad that I can be there for her. I try to keep her focused on positive things and I told her it was not an option to die, that she has to think about her three kids and what would happen to them without her.”
Daughter Dominika, 15, overheard her mother talking to friends after the diagnosis and ended up in the kitchen crying.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Dominika said. “I couldn’t see this happening to her.”
Dominika has stepped up and often helps get her siblings dressed in the mornings and she cleans the house to help her mother.
Her daughter’s teenage rebellion has all but disappeared.
“I think she really grew up a little,” Bettancourt said.
Angelique, her middle child, took the news the hardest and became anxious and clingy.
“She’s worried all the time and cries and she wants me to hold her,” Bettancourt said. “There are just no words to explain this to a 6-year-old.”
Her youngest, Leonel, is only 5 years old.
Bettancourt was terrified when she started chemotherapy and she did not know how she would deal with the tiredness that would come, especially while working and taking care of her children.
She had a bad reaction to the first round of treatment; her white blood cell count plummeted and she began to run a fever. Her doctor told her to go immediately to the emergency room at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.
Ruiz drove her to the hospital and stayed with her while Bettancourt spent five days battling a ferocious infection.
She just finished her second round of chemo, which she tolerated better.
“It makes your body so tired and it’s hard to get up in the morning,” she said.
Bettancourt planned to keep working, but her doctor told her not to work because of her increased risk of infection. A simple cold can turn into pneumonia and be fatal.
“It’s scary,” she said. “But I’m also worried financially and I’m going to try to go back to work.”
She faces six months of chemo and then will undergo a double mastectomy. Further treatment will depend on how well her body responds.
Recently, her long brown hair, which she had never cut, started coming out in clumps. Twice she cut a few inches off before finally just shaving it all.
“It’s hard, but I’m not giving up. I have to stay positive,” Bettancourt said. “There are days I feel that I can’t do it but I have to just get up and do it anyway.”