Emma Quintana remembers vividly when she realized she might have breast cancer.

It was 1999, and the young mom was on a plane to her native Peru. She had contracted bronchitis — and just wasn’t feeling herself.

For whatever reason, she decided on getting a mammogram. And, the results were not what she had hoped. Doctors found, on her breast, micro-calcification. She had breast cancer.

She opted for aggressive treatment. Her surgery lasted nine hours. And her husband offered 100% support.

“I see your soul,” he said of Emma’s decision to have the aggressive surgery.

After the surgery, she had seven chemo treatments. And, whether it’s through the grace of God or a number of other reasons, since 2000, she has remained cancer free. But it was that year — nearly two decades ago — that Quintana decided she had to do something positive with her victory over cancer.

At the time, her kids were 11, 10 and 8. And while it took some time before it kicked off, from Quintana’s battle was born a support group for Spanish-speaking women who had or who beat breast cancer — Mujeres Valientes, or, Brave Women.

The group was born following a series of discussions with Lisa Feorenzo, the owner and advertising director at The Observer. Mayor Alberto Santos has suggested that Quintana contact Feorenzo — and that’s just what she did.

Feorenzo, at the time on the Board of Trustees at West Hudson Hospital, contacted Rosemarie Dressler who was the hospital’s public relations director. Dressler offered a conference room where Mujeres Valientes could meet on a regular basis.

The meetings remained at West Hudson Hospital until it closed in 2003.

Then, the meetings moved to their current location — the East Newark Senior Citizens Center — after East Newark Mayor Joseph Smith offered the spot to Quintana’s group … for free.

It’s been a labor of love ever since.

The group meets at 7 p.m. most last Fridays of each month. Occasionally, the meeting dates are changed. But not often.

“We celebrate birthdays of the survivors,” Quintana said. “And we always do our best to encourage the woman to think positive. It is not easy to do that. But we only have the present — and we have to be aware of that.”

The women — and one man — who attend the meetings regularly are a close-knit group of people of Latino heritage.

“I’ve met so many people — so many special people,” Quintana said. “They’ve become family. God acts in so many mysterious ways and while people feel the loss and are devastated, they find the support of the people important. They give thanks for the strength to get through this. They find hope from the people who survive this.”

Quintana says there are still rough days, despite being cancer free for so long. She estimates Mujeres Valientes has lost 20 women over the years.

“This is when I count my blessings,” she said. “I remember the saying, ‘I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become.’”

Feorenzo, meanwhile, wants to give back to Quintana, her friend, who has become what the Jesuit Pedro Arrupe, S.J., would call a “Woman For Others.” This month, The Observer will sell Breast Cancer Awareness ribbons which will be published in the newspaper with messages sent by purchasers. The ribbons will cost $85 and $20 of each ribbon sold will be donated to women in need in Mujeres Valientes.

Individuals and businesses may purchase the ribbons. The $20 donations represent the profit from the ribbons. The additional $65 simply covers printing costs.

“I wanted to be able to do something where we know people will be directly benefiting from the donations,” Feorenzo said. “Larger organizations spend their donation money for research. But making sure women in Emma’s group receive this money, we can be certain we know it’s having a direct and positive effect in the lives of the women.”

The funds raised may be used for the uninsured or under-insured, or for any of a number of items breast cancer survivors might need to help bring comfort to the battle.

To purchase a ribbon, call The Observer at 201-991-1600, or stop by the office at 39 Seeley Ave., Kearny, at the northwest intersection of Seeley and Kearny avenues, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays, during the month of October.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.