In recognition of National Adoption Month, we present a personal interview with Stella Acosta, one of six featured in the 2013 documentary “Cancer Without Chemotherapy.” Acosta, now 33, was adopted from Honduras as a toddler, and her adopted siblings went through extensive cancer treatment while waiting for a permanent home. While they suffered a string of hardships, including the removal of all her hair due to chemotherapy, Acosta says she was able to remain upbeat. “My mom was there for me through the whole process. My siblings were struggling, but we as a family understood and pulled together for each other,” she says. “We all went through something huge at different times, but we all stayed strong together as a family.”
How did you get started on cancer research?
When I was 23, my mom went through cancer, and it ended with her death. She was a very resilient woman, which is something I always try to look for in people. Looking back, she was very prepared for the fight, and she made sure that we all understood that. When it came to sickness, she made sure that I was good-natured, and that was something that I try to remember from her when I’m going through any type of illness.
How are you handling your own illness today?
Right now, it’s kind of a fight against the prognosis, so getting my work done and maintaining my sanity in all of it is important to me. I have to remind myself to remind myself that I’m still having fun. I’m 32 and I’m still learning, still discovering. That includes learning about my body. And who I am as a human being, and what things affect me and why. Those little things help me keep on a positive mindset, because you learn a lot about yourself during certain times in your life.
When was your mother diagnosed with cancer?
She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 15. She always beat it, so I kind of assumed that she didn’t have to work on it. But in 2014, she had a cancerous tumor on her brain. In 2015, we lost her.
The last time I saw you was in “Cancer Without Chemotherapy,” when she was undergoing chemo.
When I was filming that, I was pregnant with my son, and she was really worried about how it would affect her pregnancy. I remember she was very worried about how the chemotherapy would affect us. She was very adamant that she was going to be OK, and she was very supportive of what I was doing. But she knew it was going to be a little rough for me. She didn’t really know what she was going to be experiencing herself. I had only seen a little bit of it.
Any time after that, your mother’s health declined?
Not really, except for the experience she had during her childhood. There was that incident, and when she was a teen, I think they made a bad decision with her health care. So she lost that experience. And for her, she was, I think, at her most vulnerable point, emotionally. That’s why she wanted me to keep going through it. She knew that when I did find a good spot, when I found that place of understanding and acceptance, it would affect me and give me great confidence. And I always think about that today. So even though she’s fighting it now, she’s fighting for me, and that’s something that I’m grateful for.