Kassandra Cerda was only 20 weeks pregnant in February when the inconceivable happened — doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. That meant the rest of her pregnancy would play out drastically different than she ever imagined.
"It was just disbelief on my end. I didn't want to believe it; I was in denial," Cerda tells PEOPLE fo receiving the news. "I couldn't believe it, I was pregnant and I didn't think something like that would happen to me. But cancer does not discriminate, and it was shocking."
The 27-year-old from Mission, Texas, has since undergone treatment to fight the disease, which doctors at MD Anderson in Houston later discovered had spread to her lymph nodes. Cerda started chemotherapy in April and will continue to until doctors provide an update on her progress in the coming weeks.
Cerda has already gone through so much during the last few months but says she is stronger than she was before.
"I was so scared. I was scared to die," Cerda, who also has a two-year-old son, recalls. "But, I'm glad that I'm over that stage. It was very rough on me at first, and I would cry a lot. I didn't have hope. When you hear the word cancer, it sounds like you're going to die."
Cerda made all of her chemotherapy appointments and gave birth to a healthy baby boy on June 17, about a week before his due date. Now that the pregnancy is over, she has two more weeks to recover before she goes in for her next appointment.
"They're going to do another review to see if my tumors or my lymph nodes shrunk, so we'll see," she says. "I hope that when I get evaluated again, that my tumor and my lymph nodes shrank and that the first round of chemo worked."
"Because if it didn't," she adds, "God, I don't know what's going to happen from there."
Cerda's close friend, Janie Hernandez, started a GoFundMe to help her cover the bills as her treatment continues. The page has raised just under $15,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
While Cerda is open about the fear she's endured since receiving the life-changing news in February, she says she doesn't want anyone to feel sadness for her. But, if by sharing her story she can help bring strength to someone else, it's worth telling.
"I don't want people to feel sorry for me," she says. "No, that's not the point. I want people to know that, whatever it is, if it's a minor or major obstacle you're going through in life, it doesn't mean that you have to stumble yourself and say, 'You know what? I give up.' "
"No, other people are fighting through harder stuff and they make it through," she continues. "That's my message and my purpose."