Alfonso, a Gulfport resident, is the busy owner of Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty, the largest real estate brokerage firm on the Mississippi coast with 175 employees in five offices. However, cancer got her attention even though she was at first told by her gynecologist that she was too young to have breast cancer and not to worry about the lump in her breast.
“No one is too young for breast cancer,” she says. “I had a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, which was injections back then. I was so sick I didn’t even feel like watching television when I was taking it. I want to stress that chemotherapy has changed a lot since then.”
At that time women had to wait five years for reconstructive surgery, and cancer wasn’t finished with her. Five and a half years later while undergoing reconstructive surgery, cancer was discovered in Alfonso’s remaining breast. “It was another kind of cancer, non hormonal, and they did a lumpectomy,” she said. “Chemotherapy had changed a lot when I went through it the second time. My hair fell out again, but I was given anti-nausea medication and I did not get sick.”
Alfonso is pleased that her hair came back again, better than ever. But she’s more pleased and thankful every day that she has remained cancer free. “Cancer is a journey; it’s never over but I’m just grateful to be here. It’s a badge to be a survivor,” she said. “There’s a lot you can overcome.”
When diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, Alfonso had just met her future husband, Walter Ketchings. She credits his support and that of her biological and work families as significant in pulling her through the battle both times. “Support means a lot,” she says. “Judy Freeman had just joined us as office manager when I was diagnosed the first time, and she said, ‘We can handle this; do what you have to do and don’t worry about work.’”
No shrinking violet, Alfonso leads an active life at age 66 and never hesitates to be an advocate for mammograms and all medical tests that can lead to the early detection of any type of cancer. She and others at Alfonso Realty participate in the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer walk every year and she pays for mammograms for employees who can’t afford them. She makes a point of knowing each employee and their families.
“People are so scared of cancer and everyone’s life is touched by it,” she said. “Having cancer changed my life. It’s made me a different and better person. I’m more patient. I appreciate life and enjoy every day of it. It’s been almost 30 years since I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. I work every day, and I get checkups and tests every year.”
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