Woman who battled diabetes, cancer shares story of survival

Researchers have established a link between diabetes and cancers of the pancreas, liver, colon and breast

SAN ANTONIO – You hear about diabetes all the time in South Texas. But did you know it’s linked to cancer?

According to UT Health San Antonio, 16% of San Antonians have diabetes, which is higher than the national rate of 10%. A 2021 study in the medical journal “Cancers” found up to 18% of cancer patients have diabetes.

For 54-year-old Virginia Cortes, it’s been a long journey to recovery.

“I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (in) December of 2015, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer (in) September of 2019,” Cortes said.

In the last eight years, she’s lost weight, started diabetes medication and finished cancer treatment. As she continues to recover, she can’t help but wonder how she got here.

“Had I not had diabetes, could I have prevented the cancer? I don’t know,” said Cortes.

There’s no clear answer for Cortes. However, researchers have established a link between diabetes and cancers of the pancreas, liver, colon and breast.

“Diabetes is a chronic inflammatory disease that puts your body in override. That can lead abnormal cells to proliferate and then eventually cause cancer,” said Dr. Carolina Solis-Herrera, chief of endocrinology at UT Health San Antonio.

Solis-Herrera said diabetes and cancer patients can stay healthy by eating more vegetables, walking often and getting regular medical checkups.

“All those factors together will count to protect you from the complications (of) either heart attacks or strokes, blindness, amputation, or end-stage kidney disease, and then, of course, the cancers associated with diabetes,” Solis-Herrera said.

Now that Cortes is in remission, she told KSAT she sees light at the end of the tunnel. She hopes her experience inspires others to take care of their health.

“It’s preventable. It is hard to change, but you’ll change when you’re ready to change. And I hope it’s before you get diabetes,” said Solis-Herrera.

About the Authors

Stephania Jimenez is an anchor on The Nightbeat. She began her journalism career in 2006, after graduating from Syracuse University. She's anchored at NBC Philadelphia, KRIS in Corpus Christi, NBC Connecticut and KTSM in El Paso. Although born and raised in Brooklyn, Stephania considers Texas home. Stephania is bilingual! She speaks Spanish.

Rick Medina is a Video News Editor at KSAT. A graduate of the University of Texas' prestigious Radio-Television-Film program, he has been in the news business for more than 20 years. Rick is also a documentary filmmaker, helming the award-winning film festival favorites, “The Opossum Begins” and “Amigoland.” He is originally from Brownsville.

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