On August 23, Drea Sauceda was surrounded by her family and friends, and cheered on by plenty of supporters—many of whom she’ll never meet.
The scene was in stark contrast to December 2021 when she discovered an almond-sized lump in her breast. The following month, Sauceda, then 38, was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, Sauceda faced uncertainty. She had no idea what would come next. The preschool teacher soon discovered that she’d need surgery to remove the lump from her breast.
“Getting diagnosed, from that moment on it was a very scary feeling because I didn’t know what was to come,” she said. “I knew we caught it early, I knew we were going to do surgery, but I thought that was it.”\
Sauceda underwent surgery in late March of 2022. She then was told that she’d need chemotherapy, which began in April of last year. Sauceda was treated at the Mission Hope Cancer Center in Santa Maria. She finished chemotherapy in mid-July before starting radiation treatment in August of 2022. Her radiation treatment was completed that October.
August 23 of this year was the 10th annual Day of Hope. Sauceda served as the day’s ambassador, a symbol of hope for those going through similar battles.
“I am so overwhelmed seeing the community come out and support the cancer patients that we have here at Mission Hope,” Sauceda said after traveling through Santa Maria and Guadalupe as a grand marshall of sorts for a parade of classic cars that has become a highlight of the Day of Hope.
“Even for me—a survivor who’s at the end of their cancer journey—the support is overwhelming,” Sauceda said. “There’s so much love. People are so caring and giving.”
Sauceda said she was in awe of the community’s generosity. The day featured teams of volunteers selling newspapers at busy street corners in Santa Maria for $1.
“People were handing out $20 and $50 bills,” Sauceda said. “The community wants to support Mission Hope and it’s so great to feel that support from such a beautiful community.”
The Day of Hope is serving as a sort of exclamation point on Sauceda’s battle with breast cancer, a ray of sunshine that followed some of her darkest days.
“After my surgery, they told me I was going to need chemo. It was so scary—this feeling of fear,” Sauceda said. “I wondered, ‘What’s chemo going to do to me? How am I going to react?’”
Sauceda quickly found out that she had a team to support her in the fight, a realization that came from her home nurse.
“After my surgery, the nurse told me, ‘You got this. You can do this.’ She gave me some tips on what to expect,” Sauceda said. “That was the beginning of the support that I received from Mission Hope. That nurse then became one of my chemo nurses.”
Sauecda said that was just the beginning.
“From that point, each person I came into contact with has told me, ‘You got this, you can do it.’ That lifted me up. I knew I could do this,” she said. “Every single staff member, every single doctor—even the receptionists at the Mission Hope offices—were so loving and caring. “Slowly, I was like, ‘Ok, you can do this. You got this.’ I believed I could overcome this. That has helped me get to the point where I can talk about this.” Sauceda said after her diagnosis she was “very closed off.” “I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want to go into support groups,” she said. “As time has gone on, the love, the support from the community here at Mission Hope has helped me fight and feel empowered. I believed I could do this. The support was there, I wasn’t left to just figure it out on my own.”
Sauceda says she now even writes blog entries about her battle so others going through similar treatments can know what to expect.
Day of Hope has now raised more than $2 million since its inception in 2014, with its fundraising efforts totaling $2,287,617 over 10 years.
Sauceda said Mission Hope made sure she had transportation to her treatments and helped ensure that the wife and mother of two was able to focus on her battle with cancer.
“‘Do you need rides? Do you need a gas card? Can you commute to the dietician?’ They kept checking on me and asking what I needed to get through it,” Sauceda said of Mission Hope. “That brought me so much further than me trying to do this on my own. I am so grateful for Mission Hope and now I want more patients to receive those services. I am all about that and that’s why Day of Hope is so important. It’s an exciting day because we are supporting the future of our community.”
Drea’s husband Joey has seen first-hand the fight his wife has.
“Obviously, everyone is human and has their moments of emotion, but being able to see her fight it – it almost seems like she’s better than what I deserve in the sense of the type of person that she is,” Joey Sauceda said. “I honestly don’t think I could be as strong as she has been throughout this. To see her handle the fight—going through the treatments, being a mom, being a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a sister—it’s amazing to see.”