In Her Own Words: The Maria Torres Story

Pictured: Maria Torres with Deborah Erwin, PhD, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research

"How did I feel after learning I had breast cancer? A feeling of loneliness,” says Maria Torres, a resident of Buffalo, New York and breast and cervical cancer survivor. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to or anywhere I could go to seek out advice regarding what to do next because I had no idea what the disease was.”

Some Latinas in the United States are less likely to receive mammograms, clinical breast exams, and/or Pap tests than non-Hispanic white women. As a result, their cancer isn’t likely to be caught in its early stages when treatment may be more successful.

At Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Esperanza y Vida (Hope and Life) works to overcome these trends. The program investigates barriers to cancer screening and offers programming designed to educate Latinas about breast and cervical cancers and the importance of routine screening for early detection of the disease. Trained volunteers, many of them breast cancer survivors like Maria, have become certified lay health advisors and actively help the program’s facilitators plan and implement breast awareness and screening activities.

“We recognize that a ‘one size fits all’ message will not change habits and behaviors. Instead, we communicate the importance of screening with a message our audience can relate to,” says Deborah Erwin, PhD, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research at Roswell Park. “We have bilingual volunteers and staff members on hand to get the message across in a relaxed atmosphere. Cancer survivors like Maria also volunteer to share their stories and answer questions, helping to put our program participants at ease.”

“For more than seven years, our program has made a significant impact on the number of Latinas receiving breast and cervical screenings in Western New York,” says Jomary Colon, Project Coordinator for Esperanza y Vida who also happens to be Maria’s daughter. “Our hope is to keep reaching more community members to continue providing programming that will save and improve the lives of so many.”

To learn more about Esperanza y Vida, contact Jomary Colon at 716-845-4623 or send email to