Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into (invade) surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women and is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12%. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer. This also means there is a 7 in 8 chance she will never have the disease.
Today, We read the story of Survivor, Alene Adams.
My story begins with Afflac coming to my company to sell cancer and heart attack policies. For $10.00 a pay period you could get $10,000.00 in coverage that would be payable directly to you in case of cancer or a heart attack. Well since I always had negative mammograms and no history of breast cancer in my family, I figured I didn’t need it, but we were required to sit through the presentation so I went. They gave out paperwork to everyone to fill out and bring back by the end of the day. I took my paperwork back to my desk and casually tossed it aside since I knew I wasn’t going to need it. But something in the back of my head kept saying, “It is only $20.00 per month, just get it especially since heart problems run in the family.” So, I filled out the paperwork and turned it in. That was in September of 2011.
I always get my mammogram on or close to my birthday in November because it is easy to remember to keep the appointment. So, I had the mammogram done as usual and continued with my life with not a worry in the world. A couple of weeks later the doctor’s office calls and says they need to do a repeat mammogram on the left breast to double check something that showed up on the scan. In my head, I’m thinking, “No problem, this has happened before.” So, I go and have the repeat mammogram. A week later the doctor calls and advises that there was a small lump found and that they wanted me to see a Dr. Whereatt who was a breast specialist. “A breast specialist? What the heck is that? There is actually a specialty in medical school just for breasts?” (As you can see, I did a lot of talking to myself in my head.) So, I made an appointment. Dr. Whereatt is a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer. She was warm and put me at ease. Upon examining my breast, she could feel the lump and said that because it was small that she could do the biopsy right then and there. (“Biopsy, WTH?”) She numbed my breast and stuck a long needle in and took out some fluid. (“Okay, it is just a biopsy, it will be okay.”) The next day she called and it wasn’t okay. I had stage I breast cancer. As Dr. Whereatt expressed how sorry she was and told me that I would have to have several tests, blah, blah, blah, I felt myself go numb. I HAD BREAST CANCER!!! This was right before Thanksgiving so we scheduled all my tests for the following week.
The next week I had all the pre-op tests. I kept telling myself that everything would be fine. I had to. Breast Cancer can mean death. I refused to think about dying so I got through all the tests. When they were all done, I went home and took a shower and sat on my shower floor and cried. I had put on a brave front during all the testing but now the surgery was scheduled and I was terrified. I told a few close friends and family members but otherwise kept the news to myself.
On January 5th, I went to the hospital to have my lumpectomy. I was fortunate as the tumor I had was only 1.5 centimeters so I wasn’t going to need a full mastectomy. I thought I would get to the hospital, check in and get the surgery done. But no. They must inject the breast with dye first so that the doctor can see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. (“Wait, I have to have another needle stuck into my breast?”) Well it turns out there were not one but FOUR needles. The injections must be at the top, bottom and both sides of the affected breast. The pain was excruciating. They took me back to my room and then a couple of hours later it was finally time for the surgery.
I woke up very groggy and the first thing I did was feel my breast to make sure it was still there. My doctor came and saw me and let me know they got the whole tumor and there was no cancer in the lymph nodes. I was so relieved. A few weeks later I began radiation as the oncologist determined that chemo would not be needed. Again, I was so relieved.
My story may not be as bad as others, but the fear of possibly dying is no different. I am 5 years cancer free and pray that I will continue to kick its ass. I feel truly blessed and grateful to still be alive. I celebrate being alive by making sure not to sweat the small stuff and living my life to the fullest. Things that used to upset me a lot I just blow off now. People ask, “How is it that you rarely get upset?” It is because I fought cancer and won. Nothing that life throws at me can be more difficult than that.
Alene is from Chicago but currently makes Nevada her home.
For More information on Breast Cancer:
Black Women's Health Imperative (https://www.bwhi.org/)
Sister's Network, Inc. (http://www.sistersnetworkinc.org/index.html)