I am an 11 year breast cancer survivor, and I owe my recovery from this deadly disease to love of life, faith and medicine. It all began in October, 1983 when I was 39 years old. During a routine yearly physical, my internist felt a lump in my breast and told me I’d have to get a biopsy.
I immediately recalled the previous year when I had discovered a pea-sized lump during a breast self-examination. At that time, I went to see my gynecologist, who told me there was nothing to worry about. I wasn’t as informed as I am now, so I didn’t seek a second opinion or ask him why he’d never suggested a mammogram. I’d been going to this doctor for 20 years and trusted his judgment completely.
The surgeon who did the biopsy was excellent and very precise. He explained what he was going to do prior to the 45-minute procedure, and he also described each step as he proceeded to do it.
The lump, which looked like a blob of chicken fat, was put in a jar and sent it to the pathologist to be analyzed. Two days later, I went back to the surgeon for the results of the report. I remember sitting on the sofa in his office and hearing him say, “It’s malignant.”
I cried out and asked God what I had done to deserve this fate. After giving me time to compose myself, the doctor recommended that I have a mastectomy. A few days later, after I’d had time to think about it and talk to my family, I agreed. Surgery was scheduled for that Thursday, October 16, 1983. My breast and the lymph nodes in my armpit were removed.
While I was recuperating, a Reach for Recovery volunteer came to my hospital room to give me a packet of breast cancer information. She told me that she was a 5 year breast cancer survivor. Knowing that I was not alone with this condition gave me hope, and talking with someone who had survived breast cancer was an inspiration.
But my spirits crashed again when I was told that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and that I had to have chemotherapy. I spent a sleepless night evaluating the situation and all my options. I was determined to live, and ultimately I decided the only way to do that was to take control of my life and fight this disease with every inch of my being.
After I was home for a couple of weeks, I scheduled an appointment with the oncologist to discuss chemotherapy. My regimen would be 17 rounds of treatments. A round was five consecutive days of chemo every six weeks. This was to continue for two years.
I had a very positive attitude about chemotherapy because I believed it would kill all the cancer cells in my body. But it wasn’t easy I got violently sick with my very first treatment and every treatment after that. I did not lose all my hair as I had expected, but it did thin out a lot. I would wake up with long strands on my pillow. With each treatment, I would meditate and ask God to help see me through one more day.
I was still married during this ordeal, and my husband would take me to the doctor Monday through Friday for chemo, which came in the form of one shot and three pills. On Saturdays we would have a party celebrating my completing another round of treatments. My mother cooked a delicious dinner and the entire family would come over. This was the day I felt like I was part of the living and I could enjoy food without throwing up.
After finishing my last round of chemo, tests showed the cancer had been eradicated. But that does not mean my struggle is over. I have been taking Tamoxifen (a powerful, estrogen-like drug that increases breast cancer survival in some women) for the past 11 years I also have a blood test taken every three months to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.
God gave every individual a gift and I feel being able to inform people about breast cancer is mine. You see, my paternal grandmother died of breast cancer two years before I was diagnosed. I didn’t realize then, however, that a family history of breast cancer put me at higher risk. If I had been aware of this, I would have made sure I was monitored properly, and perhaps my cancer would not have spread.
I vow to continue to spread information about breast cancer to help other women understand their risks and how they can beat this terrible disease.
Lillouise Rogers lives in Chicago, IL where she volunteers at Y-ME as a Hotline Counselor, Breast Self-Examination Workshop Leader and Open Door Meetings Coordinator.