After her birth mother died of breast cancer, her adoptive mother was diagnosed, too

DAYTON, Ohio -- Alexis Preston knew she was going to die when she met Heather Salazar in 2002.

Preston, then the 23-year-old mother of an 8-month-old daughter, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and had no support from her own family. Her biggest concern, Salazar said, was finding a stable home for her child.

"For a long time, I wasn't sure," Salazar said.

She had three biological children and didn't know if she could give another the care she needed. But three days after their meeting, she and her husband agreed to adopt Preston's baby, Lexi.

"It was meant to be," she said. "She was meant to be ours."

The speed at which Preston's illness progressed meant everything moved fast, according to Salazar. While she took Preston to chemotherapy treatments, they worked together to make sure the Salazars could formally adopt Lexi.

Preston died a week after her 24th birthday. Two years later, Salazar made a terrifying discovery: She had breast cancer, too.

"I was really, really angry," she said. "We adopted this child to love her, and all my kids knew about breast cancer, and now are Lexi and Cara both going to lose their mom to breast cancer? Is Lexi going to lose two moms?"

Lexi didn't.

Salazar was fortunate enough to be diagnosed in an early stage, and her treatment was successful, but her two experiences with breast cancer -- Preston's and her own -- inspired her to do more for other women who had been diagnosed.

As president and CEO of Pink Ribbon Girls, Salazar helps bring education and support to women with breast cancer across the state of Ohio. Pink Ribbon Girls' volunteers and employees bring patients healthy meals, help them find clean homes and drive them to doctors' appointments.

Lexi, now 16, is one of those volunteers. She knows her biological mother's story.

"She was brave and wanted me to have a good life after (she died), since she couldn't make it," Lexi said.

And she understands why her adoptive mother, Salazar, is so passionate about helping other breast cancer patients and their families.

"I am very proud of her," she said. "It's so cool seeing how it's grown from where it started to now."

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