Blogs > Focusing on the needs of Spanish speakers: Jaclyn Candelaria

Focusing on the needs of Spanish speakers: Jaclyn Candelaria


When you receive a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s often hard to make sense of the unfamiliar medical words and concepts you hear. Imagine how much harder it is when that important information is given in a language you don’t speak or understand well.

Jaclyn Candelaria, 33, sees that difficulty facing many Spanish-speaking people at the cancer center where she receives treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Jaclyn, whose ethnic heritage is Hispanic, lives in Albuquerque. She grew up in rural New Mexico, a state in which 48 percent of residents are Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center.

The adults in her family spoke Spanish to each other. Jaclyn and the other children were raised to speak only English because their parents had been punished in school for using Spanish. That background sensitized her to what non-English speakers experience after a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Anybody [in the U.S.] that just speaks Spanish and hasn’t learned English is probably already at a disadvantage economically … and they’re probably less educated about breast cancer,” Jaclyn says. “That puts them at a higher risk of maybe not taking their medicine correctly or missing appointments.”

She sees Spanish-speaking women at the cancer center who need translators. Although the center offers interpretive services upon request, many people use family members to translate for them. Those relatives may not understand medical information.

None of Jaclyn’s doctors speaks Spanish, she says, although some nurses do. Most of the educational material she has seen is provided only in English. As an LBBC Young Advocate, she has two goals: to increase access to Spanish-language resources and help people learn more about metastatic disease.

She wants to give Spanish speakers information they understand and can share with family, such as LBBC’s Guía para nuevas pacientes (Guide for New Patients), part of its Serie sobre el cancer de mama metastásico, or Metastatic Breast Cancer Series. The guide is available free online. It is also translated into Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog. (LBBC’s guide for those diagnosed with early-stage disease was published in Spanish later that year.)

Bridging language gaps

Jaclyn studied English in college while working as a tutor helping Middle Eastern refugees improve their English skills. At age 28, with a 5-year-old son, she was diagnosed with early-stage, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive breast cancer in 2011. After a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and trastuzumab (Herceptin) treatment, she achieved her undergraduate degree.

In 2016, Jaclyn was working for a charitable organization as an English tutor for Mexican immigrants and taking classes for a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She and her son lived in student family housing. Shortly after landing her first teaching job, she felt a strong pain in what she thought was her gallbladder. In the hospital emergency room, she learned that breast cancer had spread to her liver and she had metastatic disease.

“I felt I was just restarting my life after my first diagnosis when my life got turned upside down again,” Jaclyn says.

Several changes followed quickly. The chemotherapy medicine she was prescribed caused extreme fatigue, so she had to stop working. “It was very sad for me. I loved my students,” she recalls. She also had to leave graduate school. That meant she and her son could not stay in their student apartment.

She found another place to live. Her mother moved in to help. “I don’t know what I’d do without her,” says Jaclyn. “I have very little energy — maybe an hour and then I’m done.” She receives disability payments and has about a year of classes left to get her master’s degree.

Although appreciative of her mother’s help, Jaclyn feels isolated and unable to talk with her mother about her diagnosis. “She’s very religious and has a different way of approaching things. I am not religious at all,” Jaclyn says. She found support online when invited to join a closed Facebook group for women under age 40 who have metastatic breast cancer. “I can talk to them about anything. They all know what I’m going through,” she says.

The cancer center she uses has a monthly breast cancer support group for Hispanic/Latina women of all ages. Jaclyn plans to join the group, connect it to LBBC’s resources and become more involved in outreach.

“I hope to use my ESL (English as a Second Language) skills to reach out to breast cancer patients whose first language is not English,” she says. “Getting educational material to them is important.”


This article was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number 1 U58 DP005403, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.