Not even a little rain can stop the force that is Clara Pablo. On the day of our scheduled photo shoot and interview with the music industry VIP, a torrential downpour practically flooded the streets of Miami, canceling any outdoor plans for the day. And yet the less-than-ideal weather didn’t delay Pablo, who arrived on set at the Gibson Showroom in the Wynwood District with the same bright smile and positive attitude that has attracted her more than 200,000 followers on Instagram.
Pablo, who works directly in management with global superstar artists like CNCO and Maluma as the SVP of Marketing at Walter Kolm Entertainment, is on the forefront of the breast cancer awareness movement within the Latina community. Despite a busy schedule which takes her from New York to Miami to Los Angeles (and everywhere in between), Pablo still spends much of her days advocating for breast cancer awareness. Why? Because at age 38, Pablo is also a breast cancer survivor. “When I was diagnosed, I kept asking why, why, why,” Pablo recalls. “But my mom said, ‘Stop asking why. Ask what for? This happened to you for what specific reason?’” Her advice and inquiry, Pablo says, has inspired her to be an advocate—for herself and for others—from the stream of her popular Instagram feed to the pages of the magazine.
Like most young breast cancer patients, Pablo’s diagnosis came as a surprise. Pablo and her boyfriend found a lump on her chest while watching television. She immediately texted her gynecologist, who scheduled her for an 8 a.m. appointment the next day. The doctors performed an ultrasound and found a mass. “It was a dark little mass,” she recalls. “It looked like one of those hurricane doppler radars, like you could see the eye of a hurricane.”
Pablo was not yet worried until she spoke with the physician. “I said, ‘So, it’s a cyst right?’ And she looked at me straight in the face and said, ‘It’s not a cyst. It looks like a tumor, and in my experience, I’m pretty sure it’s cancer,’” Pablo says. She immediately called her parents who rushed to the center to be with her before they performed a biopsy. The next morning, she received the news: invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I felt like somebody punched me in the gut, and I couldn’t breathe,” Pablo says. “It’s the worst feeling in the world.” Pablo credits her mother for being her motivator in the immediate moments after receiving her diagnosis. “She looked at me with the strength that only moms can give you and said, ‘Okay, we got this.’ And that was like our motto the entire time: We got this,” says Pablo.
It was that community support from her friends, family and peers—that emphasis on “we” rather than “I”—that helped Pablo through it all. “I heard the news at 11 a.m., and by 3 p.m., everybody was at my house,” Pablo says. “We cried. I would say I gave myself five hours to cry. I said, ‘Everybody cry what you have to cry. We’re not going to be crying this entire time. We’re going to figure this out.’”
Later, she reached out to friends like the late philanthropist Wendy Grant who also had breast cancer and was best friends with Nancy Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen. “[Grant] was one of the most beautiful souls. She’s somebody who advocated for everybody besides herself,” Pablo notes. The two telephoned the recently opened Miami Cancer Institute (MCI). After receiving her diagnosis on a Friday, Pablo was at MCI by that following Monday.
“When I was diagnosed, I kept asking why, why, why,” Pablo recalls. “But my mom said, ‘Stop asking why. Ask what for?
Although she originally planned on receiving treatment at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York (Pablo splits her time between New York and Miami), she decided to go with the Miami Cancer Institute instead. Pablo describes the Miami Cancer Institute as “the Disney for cancer patients,” and praised the facility for its true warmth and compassion for its patients. “Everybody just generally cared about me and my health and my well being,” she says. Pablo’s breast oncologist, Dr. Jane Mendez, says that is just how MCI operates. “In my eyes, every time somebody walks in through the door of the institute, every patient brings a story, every patient brings their own fears, their own hesitations, their own expectations, their own dreams,” says Mendez. “The only common factor they might have in common is that they have, in my case, breast cancer, so not one size fits all.” The hospital also aims to individualize each patient’s treatment to not only the type of tumor, its characteristics and its pathologic features, but also to the individual and what’s in store for them in the future. For someone like Pablo, whose work takes her around the world regularly, she needed care that was focused and proactive.
As she began her treatment, her support system remained strong. She came to her first appointment with 11 people, including her parents, her sisters, her boyfriend, and her best friends. “One of them, it was her birthday that day, and she spent her day with me,” Pablo recalls. Enrique Iglesias even sent her flowers every day for three weeks straight. Pablo’s treatment regimen included a lumpectomy, the removal of the glands of her right and left breasts, reconstructive surgery, and radiation.
Undergoing treatment gave her perspective on the ways in which she lived her life. “I am the type of person that is Type A, so I like to plan way ahead and know everything,” Pablo recalls. “So for me, it was weird to not be able to, because without surgery, without a result of something, you can’t plan for the next part.” Since her diagnosis and initial treatment, Pablo says she has learned to let go. “If it’s not in control, you can’t control it, so just leave it. That was a game changer,” she says. “Honestly, my life is a lot better now because of what I learned during my cancer.”
What she can control is her advocacy for breast cancer awareness within the Latina community. When she got sick, Pablo began looking for other Latinas she could relate to and did not find any. On Oct. 1, 2017, right after her diagnosis, Pablo took a photo of herself sitting on her parents’ bed and announced her diagnosis to her then-40,000 Instagram followers. “I just felt like, if this is happening to me in October and this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s something there,” says Pablo. The post went viral. Others in the music community rallied behind her too. After announcing the news to others, many artists and their teams asked what they could do to help. Pablo asked them to repost her message.
Clara Pablo, photographed at the Gibson Showroom in Miami.
Photo by Anna Gunselman
Although she received lots of positive feedback, she also got backlash, like from her grandmother, who encouraged her to not tell anybody. “I was blown away by her reaction, but that is a reaction that Latina women, the older generation, they have,” Pablo says. “They don’t talk about it. It’s taboo. It’s like you did something wrong.” Many women Pablo had known for years reached out to her and revealed their own breast cancer diagnoses which they had kept secret. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you speak up? Why didn’t you share your journey?’ And they said, ‘I was ashamed,’” says Pablo.
Her aim now is to change that stigma. Soon after revealing her news, Pablo connected to Nalie Agustin, creator of Feel it on the First, an initiative for people to give themselves self-breast exams on the first of the month. Pablo soon launched her own Spanish-language initiative, Te Toca Tocarte, targeted toward the Latina community. The initiative is a reminder to Latinas to “touch yourself so it doesn’t touch you.” “My goal and my mission is to make this campaign have a life of its own. I don’t want to be the face of it. I want Latinas, other survivors and warriors, to be the face of this campaign,” says Pablo. She also hopes to turn it into a 501(c)(3).
At the end of our day, the storm clouds depart and sunny blue skies cover the Miami area like a reminder that hope is always just around the corner. Pablo understands that feeling well. Although Pablo no longer receives radiation and has recovered from her surgeries, she still comes to the MCI every 28 days to get blood work done and receive an injection in her ovaries to combat her meno-pausal symptoms, a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. “There are so many things I’ve learned inside this experience that have changed me internally and that have affected my life and those around me in such a beautiful and positive way that I say it’s been the most horrifying thing of my life and also the biggest blessing,” begins Pablo. “Cancer sort of stopped me in my tracks, and I think I’ve become a better human because of it.”
Learn more about Clara’s campaign on Instagram @TeTocaTocarte