Cancer Survivor Maria Carolina Hinestrosa, 50, Advocated Research, Treatment

Maria Hinestrosa helped found Nueva Vida, a comprehensive support network for Latinas with cancer in the Washington area.
Maria Hinestrosa helped found Nueva Vida, a comprehensive support network for Latinas with cancer in the Washington area. (Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maria Carolina Hinestrosa, 50, whose breast cancer diagnosis 15 years ago prompted her to become a leading advocate of health care reform and medical research, died June 21 at her home in Bethesda of soft tissue sarcoma, a side effect of her previous cancer treatment.

Ms. Hinestrosa, with other survivors and health-care providers, founded Nueva Vida, a comprehensive support network for Latinas with breast and cervical cancer in the Washington area. She was its executive director until 2004, and helped develop the International Latina Breast Cancer Advocacy Network. For the past five years, she had been executive vice president for programs and planning at the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

"Carolina was extraordinary," said Fran Visco, president of the coalition. "She was incredibly brilliant, analytical and at the same time warm and compassionate. In this job, you have to push back against the status quo and she never, ever shrank from that. . . . Nothing intimidated Carolina. She was interested in changing the system, changing the world to help everyone."

She helped convene a 2005 workshop on biomarker research, which resulted in the first and only advocate-written article in the Nature Reviews Cancer journal. Biomarkers are distinctive, easily identified molecular "tags" on the surface of cells. They allow scientists to find and track normal and cancerous cells, both in living tissue and samples analyzed in the laboratory.

She served on numerous national panels, including the Department of Defense's Breast Cancer Research Program and committees for the National Academy of Sciences and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Ms. Hinestrosa was born in Bogota, Colombia, and graduated from Colegio Mayor de Nuestra SeƱora del Rosario in Bogota. She came to the United States in 1985 as a Fulbright Scholar and received a master's degree in economic development from Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., in 1986. She worked as an economist in Colombia and New Zealand before settling in the Washington area in 1993. She received a second master's degree in public health from George Washington University in 2001.

In a 2002 article for the National Academy of Sciences' publication InFocus, she argued for systemic improvements in the detection and treatment of breast cancer.

"The National Cancer Institute should create a permanent infrastructure for testing new detection technologies and assessing the effectiveness of established screening tools . . . " she wrote. "But before any real breakthroughs are possible, researchers need a better understanding of the basic biology of breast cancer. And even the best technologies will be of limited help unless women have greater access to them."

Survivors include her husband, Michael Moses of Bethesda; a daughter, Isabel Hinestrosa of Bethesda; her parents, Fabio and Marina Hinestrosa of Bogota; four sisters; and a brother.

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