In March 2011, I went to the local emergency room because my leg was swelling. The doctor told me there were no blood clots or abnormalities in my legs, but he found a large mass in my right breast. I wasn’t alarmed by the mass because I had always been faithful in getting mammograms. I had a mammogram six weeks prior and the results were negative, with no mass detected, so I assumed it was just a benign cyst that I had developed in my breasts as a teen. But the more I thought about this mass, I recalled that I had been experiencing pain in my right breast for nearly a year. I spoke with, and had been examined by, two separate physicians who told me the pain was due to hormonal changes in my body. They could not feel a mass and the mammograms were not showing it. (There is a myth that cancer does not hurt…so not true.)
The day after my ER visit, I had another mammogram and sonogram. The results of the mammogram were negative, but the sonogram was more intense and detected the mass. Finally, an excision biopsy was done on March 30, 2011. Two days later, I heard those dreaded words: “You have breast cancer.” Because of the large size and the high grade of the mass, chemotherapy and radiation were required. With further pathological testing, I learned it was triple-negative breast cancer. It was very aggressive and it was rapidly growing. At this time, it was already stage IIIB cancer. A triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis means that the tumor is estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, and HER2 negative. These receptors fuel most breast cancers. Triple-negative breast cancer is very prominent in African-American women.
I began my chemotherapy in June of 2011. My friend Tina Alston was one of my strongest supporters and attended all of my therapy sessions with me. She called, visited and checked on me several times each day. She kept me uplifted and free of worries. Tina and I have been good friends for several years, and our families are close. We always seem to find the smallest things to laugh about. We keep God first in our lives.
One day, as we were talking, Tina mentioned having a knot under her arm near her breast. She thought maybe it was a strained muscle from lifting or from exercising. As it continued to bother her, I stressed to her that she needed to see a doctor just to check it out. Once she did, she heard the dreaded words also: “You have breast cancer.”
We both decided this was something we would beat and it would not beat us. We vowed not to let our faith waver. Every Tuesday, my chemotherapy day, I knew I would see or hear from Tina. Each Monday, when she had chemotherapy, I would sit with her during treatments. We laughed together, but most of all we were there for each other. We shared funny cards and little knick-knacks to keep our spirits high. We even laughed when we began to lose our hair — no more having to shave our legs, no more curling or styling our hair, and no shower caps. Just wash and go! We knew the hair would grow back and we secretly just hoped the gray wouldn’t grow back with it. We soon joined our town’s Cancer Support Art Therapy group, where we laughed at our beautiful finished projects... or at least we thought they were beautiful.
I am convinced that having Tina by my side made my cancer journey more successful than it would have been without her. When I shared the results of my biopsy, she told me: “We will get through this. This too shall pass, our faith is strong and God will always be in charge.” When she received her results I reminded her of our resolution, “We will get through this together. This too shall pass.” And, together, we did with the grace of God.