When his mother Laura was diagnosed with breast cancer last September, Michael Vargas began thinking of ways he could help. At just 13 years old, Michael put his creative juices to work designing a mascot to encourage his mother while she underwent treatment.
He may not have cured cancer, but Michael’s creativity and drive have certainly been an inspiration to Laura as she has fought to beat the disease. Thus was born Stella, a mean, lean, cancer fighting machine. Fully decked out in armor and a radiation gun as an arm, Michael created a robot design to help his mother tackle cancer.
Before her own diagnosis, Laura was no stranger to cancer. Laura’s mother had breast cancer three years ago at 69 years old and Laura’s grandmother had breast cancer twice, first at 47, the same age Laura is now, and then again 15 years later. Laura’s grandmother’s sister also had breast cancer. Because of her family history with cancer, Laura’s doctor recommended she undergo genetic testing.
“On Sept. 19, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Laura. “Grade 3 (very aggressive), triple negative (not hormone related) cancer. I had found a lump Labor Day weekend. A mammogram and ultrasound that week showed the lump in my breast as well as two more in the lymph nodes.”
Just nine months before her diagnosis, Laura received a clear mammogram during her yearly check up. Because of how aggressive the cancer was, doctors sprung into action to treat Laura. “On Oct. 2, I had the breast lump and three sentinel nodes removed,” she said. “I started five months of chemo two weeks later. I am the only one in my family that has required chemo as part of the treatment. The genetic counselor suspected that I would not test positive for the genes because none of these women died from the cancer. She was correct. The test was negative.”
Michael first learned of the possibility that Laura might be sick before the doctors ever confirmed the diagnosis. “Before my diagnosis I was looking at my ultrasound images on my computer,” said Laura. “Michael walked in and asked, 'what is that?' I told him it was an ultrasound of my breast, that I had found a lump there, and the ultrasound had found two more. I told him it looked like I probably had breast cancer. He said, 'So you'll just have to treat it, and then you'll be okay. Right?' I said, "That's right, Michael." He has not doubted that once since then.”
Never thinking of any option other than successful treatment, Michael set out to create something to help his mother find strength along her journey. Michael, who is always able to find creativity and wonder in just about anything, said one day, the right mood just hit him. “I was just kind of in that mood,” he said of the day he decided to create a cancer fighting robot. “I was making a bunch of other robots, and Mom said ‘why don't you make one for me.’ So I did.”
Michael designed the car first. “Then I put parts of the car onto the robot so they looked like one could turn into the other. The name was based on my aunt's dog, Stella,” he said. “The robot has a radiation gun to fight the cancer.”