By the time she was 22, Patty Jauregui had moved past her brush with death. She overcame end stage renal disease several years earlier with the help of a successful kidney transplant. She graduated with honors from Wesley Chapel High School and volunteered as a tutor for the children of migrant farmworkers in Dade City.
Then in June 2011 she felt so sick and exhausted, she went to the hospital.
Doctors told Jauregui that her transplanted kidney was failing.
And they discovered a golf ball-sized lump on her right breast, which turned out to be stage 4 breast cancer.
"(My doctor) said these three words that I will never forget: You have cancer," she said. "I was shocked and speechless. I could not believe it because I was so young. I felt my heart shatter into millions of pieces and I tried very hard to keep my emotions in, but I could not. The tears started rolling down my cheeks and when I turned to my doctor, she too had tears and said she wished that this was not happening to me."
Jauregui (pronounced how-reh-gee) has spent too much of her young life in hospital beds and hooked to dialysis machines. So when she's feeling well, she tries to live life to the fullest.
She has served as a volunteer assistant in kindergarten classes at Rodney B. Cox Elementary School. She takes karate lessons. She belongs to an east Pasco dance team that performs at Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day festivals in Dade City, swirling to the music in colorful costumes.
The team is called Las Mariposas — the Butterflies.
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The day before her 14th birthday, Jauregui felt very ill and fatigued. She went to the hospital. "All I wanted to do was stay home and go to sleep," she said. "My doctors said that if I did that, I would have died."
The doctors discovered that fluids and toxic wastes were building up around her heart. They diagnosed her with glomerulonephritis, an end stage renal disease that had caused both of her kidneys to fail.
After being flown to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, she underwent emergency surgery and began dialysis treatments. She continued going to Tampa General Hospital for three days a week to continue her treatments. She went to school when she could and worked with a tutor to keep up with her studies.
"I never gave up in school," she said. "I always thought that what I was going through was no excuse to not succeed."
She received her new kidney in December 2004. Life became normal — until last year, when doctors discovered the new kidney was failing and Jauregui had developed breast cancer.
The twin diagnoses complicated matters. Jauregui couldn't qualify for a new kidney until she'd been cancer-free for three years.
She started chemotherapy in August 2011 at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, while also going in regularly for kidney dialysis. With her energy for volunteer work depleted, she found another way to give: She donated her long brown tresses to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that creates wigs for children with long-term hair loss.
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After six cycles of chemo, Jauregui was declared cancer-free this past spring. She returned this fall to her studies at Pasco-Hernando Community College, hoping to someday become a pediatric nurse for children with cancer.
"I've been through so much and I know what it feels like," said Jauregui, now 23. "I want to help these children cope. I understand what they're feeling."
She continues with dialysis, praying to remain in remission so she can get a new kidney. But she's not sitting idle.
Jauregui has organized her own team — the Pink Lotus Warriors — for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. The group raised more than $1,000 for the American Cancer Society last year, and will be participating in the Oct. 20 Making Strides event at the Shops of Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel.
And most Tuesdays, she meets up with the other members of Las Mariposas to dance.
"I was healed, thanks be to God. Giving up was never an option for me because God created me and he will decide when it's my time to go. I wasn't going to let cancer or any other disease decide that it's my time to go," she said.
"People have always asked me how is that I can be so positive and smiling all the time even though I'm going through rough times, and I would say that God has always been by my side and I knew that because I always have felt a great sense of peace in my heart. I knew I was not alone."