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Desperate Housewives’ Ricardo Chavira CARES about Breast Cancer Caregivers

by Laura Shipp

Celebrity Cancer Survivor

Ricardo Chavira plays tough guy Carlos Solis on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. But off-camera, the macho actor has a much softer side – especially when it comes to family. One thing you may not know about Ricardo is that he has twice taken on the role of breast cancer caregiver. First, as a teenager when his mother was diagnosed with (and later succumbed to) breast and ovarian cancer. Then again in 2008 when his two sisters also battled the disease. In a recent interview with Coping magazine, Ricardo opened up about his family’s history with breast cancer and his new supporting role as a spokesperson for the Cancer Support Community’s C.A.R.E. Campaign for breast cancer caregivers.

What motivated you to become a spokesperson for the C.A.R.E. Campaign?
As someone whose life has been personally touched by my mother and sisters’ battle with breast cancer, I have seen firsthand the impact the disease has on the women who fight it and the loved ones who support them. I am proud to serve as the national spokesperson for this important campaign and am honored to be able to help others by letting them know they are not alone and there are free resources available to help them through this experience.

Celebrity Cancer Survivor

Ricardo Chavira with his sister Rebekah. Rebekah was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

The C.A.R.E. Campaign provides resources, education, and support for those caring for a loved one with breast cancer. During my own experience as a caregiver, I did not have access to these valuable resources, which I believe would have been extremely beneficial as I dealt with the emotional and social challenges that come with supporting a loved one with breast cancer.

Your mother fought both breast and ovarian cancer when you were a teenager. How did having a parent with cancer affect you?
It was debilitating for my whole family. My sisters and I were thrown into this role of caregiver to a single mother, especially my older sister who immediately got the job of taking care of me and my younger sister. It impacted every aspect of our lives, from more immediate issues – such as our social lives and worrying about the future – to ultimately how we dealt with the disease and the loss of our mother.

What was it like to take on the role of caregiver at such a young age?
There were many ways my sisters and I served as caregivers to my mother. Even though we were young, we took on many roles and responsibilities, including household chores, paying bills, balancing the checkbook, and even jumping on my bike to pick up groceries. We also provided her with support, comforting her through the experience and going with her when she had chemotherapy treatment.

Just over a year ago, both your sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer. How did that affect your family?
It was a shock to our whole family. It took me back to the scared little boy who had to deal with his mother’s breast cancer and death. This time, we know more and have access to resources to help us through this challenging time. While I am there to help and support my sisters, my father has taken on the role as the primary caregiver. I also try to make sure my father has the support he needs so that he continues to be a source of support and strength for my sisters.

What advice can you give to families who have a loved one who is battling cancer?
You do not have to do this alone. There are resources available to help you through this experience.

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According to Ricardo, “There is a great need to address the well-being of cancer caregivers and arm them with strategies and skills that enhance their ability to provide supportive care to their loved ones while avoiding burnout. Now, thanks to the Cancer Support Community – with support from The Breast Cancer Fund of National Philanthropic Trust – we have the C.A.R.E. Campaign for breast cancer caregivers. The campaign offers those supporting a loved one with free cancer resources and support to help them through the experience.” For more information, visit CancerSupportCommunity.org.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2010.