Guest Post | Reflections of a Breast Cancer Survivor
At the beginning of October the idea for a series about breast cancer began to take shape. After my first post about it I realized that there was much more that could and should be said about this illness. Yes, it’s the big bad scary cancer but there is still a lot of good and triumph that comes from confronting it + I realized that I’d taken it for granted that folks simply knew about breast cancer and how to arm themselves against it. Wrong. A remedy was in order - Breast Cancer 101 and a few personal stories, I thought. Knowledge is power. About the same time that I reached out to Mikaelia, I reached out to my friend Saran to see whether or not she thought her Mom – Theresa (aka Mrs. S) – would be interested in sharing her breast cancer experiences. Saran thought that it was a good idea. I was glad. I know that Saran has been a strong support for her Mom. Like Mikaelia, she was shocked when she first found out about the diagnosis but she rallied and did whatever she needed to do to help her Mom cope. I only gave general guidelines about what that sharing should be because I preferred that her Mom share what she was comfortable with and not feel obligated. I wanted it to be authentic. Saran spoke to her Mom and she agreed to share…I did a quick follow up with her today as well. Below is Mrs. S’s honest and beautiful account of her breast cancer experience, followed by a brief write up based on some follow up questions.
What was your breast cancer experience?
After reading once, that one should also bless one’s most challenging experience, I said to myself ” What’s there to be bless about breast cancer?” I was wrong. It was a truly blessed experience as the gift of grace can only be learned during such an ordeal. The unconditional acceptance of one’s journey.
How did you survive it medically and emotionally?
I had emotional support from my family, especially my children and husband Carvel and my sister Bonnie. I could not have done this journey without them. Saran being away in theUSsupported me with her untiring communications and her outpouring of love and concern during this crisis. Kamau accompanied me physically to my doctors and held my hand, physically and emotionally, during each treatment. What more can a mother ask? Carvel, my husband, made certain that all financial requirements were met, of which I am truly grateful as this is often a gray area which causes cancer patients to pass away, not able to afford treatment. My sister Bonnie, in her field of nursing advised me and was tower of strength. And special mention to the CHASE Foundation for their additional financial assistance, as the treatment was extremely expensive. I also believed in my doctors and followed blindly. Lastly, it was asking God to give me the grace to accept my faith.
How did you deal with losing your hair?
Nothing prepares you for a bald head! I, like every one else, had my hair cut low prior to losing my hair. The day in question, while getting dressed to attend a friend’s wedding, I noticed that my hair started to fall so I left my hair undone and attended the wedding. Upon my return home, I sat in front of my bathroom mirror, ran my hands through my head and 99% of my hair was off. I was speechless and could not think or could not experience any emotion at all, I was numb. This was 2 am in the morning. At about 8am, my fabulous and beautiful daughter Saran saw me and screamed ” Mommy, I luv yuh bald head, you have a better shaped head than mine, I’ve got daddy’s shape. Let me take you to the beach at lyme cay.” I completely snapped out of the pity party and fully embraced my new androgynous look. Men loved it, while women preferred me wearing a wig.
What was your decision to wear or not wear a wig?
It did not matter. My sister Bonnie sent me two beautiful wigs. I had asked that they were more radical than normal looking, so I went red head. However, most of my journey I rocked bald. One experience I recall, I was invited for dinner and on arrival I wore my wig. However, the afternoon was hot and humid and I started sweating profusely, so I took off the wig and put it on the table, oblivious to my surroundings. My friends cracked up and the waiter, who was attending me at the time, asked for me only to be told that this was the same person. I thought it was so funny.
Mrs. S’s cancer was discovered by her doctor during a routine check up. In addition to chemotherapy, she also took Herceptin for 18 months since she was diagnosed with HER2-positive cancer. HER2-positive cancer occurs when a certain protein present in the body promotes the growth of cancer cells. In approximately 20% (1 in 5) breast cancers, the cancer cells make an excess of protein because of a gene mutation. It’s not specific to breast cancer; the gene mutation and the elevated levels of protein that it causes can occur in many types of cancer. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. She also had a 6 week course of radiation therapy. Since her diagnosis and treatment, Mrs. S has cut out dairy and sugar. Instead, she uses almond milk. Her usual daily regime consists of: a fruit puree (almond milk, bananas and an in-season fruit) for breakfast, a vegetable juice, and one cooked meal. Most of her food is live or raw. She also reflects that the entire breast cancer experience led to her loving herself more. Today, Mrs. S describes herself has having “ten out of ten” health.