Survivor Sanctuary Survivor Stories
August 23, 1971 was a bittersweet day for my mother. After giving birth to 3 baby boys during the past 9 years, she finally gave birth to an 8lb, 19inch baby girl. Along with this joy also came fear. My father, who was from Eluthera Island, Bahamas, had 2 daughters, from a previous marriage, who’d both been diagnosed with cancer, one with breast cancer at the age of 33 and the other with ovarian cancer at the age of 33. Cancer took both of my sisters’ lives. Ever since the day of my birth, my mother fearfully awaited a diagnosis of one of these cancers for her baby girl, knowing that there was a strong family history present. June 5, 2009 was the day……the day that I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I was 37 years old. My mother immediately began crying, as her nightmare had become a reality.
Like so many women who had taken the same journey as I was about to embark on, I was scared but had to remain strong, although it seemed like everything and everyone around me was crumbling. On top of all of my fears I had to disclose to my 8 year old daughter that her “Mommy” had cancer. So many thoughts, images and memories ran through my head. I was very blessed to have God in my life and a great team of doctors, nurses and an awesome genetic counselor to help me through the maze.
From the beginning I never wanted my breast cancer to be a secret, as I had seen one too many women die of this disease because of the myths and taboos associated with having breast cancer and the black community’s reluctance to have open discussions about a disease that kills us younger than any other ethnic group. I found comfort in talking to my friends, church members and of course, past survivors about the rush of feelings I was experiencing. What I didn’t know was I also bought them comfort, allowing them to look at this disease in a different way than they had before. By refusing to let cancer change whom I was after losing a boyfriend, receiving a Stage 1 triple negative tumor diagnosis, having a double mastectomy, discovering I am a BRAC-1 gene carrier, losing all of my hair after one round of chemo and a 23lb weight lost during chemo, I was determined not to allow breast cancer make me a prisoner, even after I was told that I would need a hysterectomy soon because the risk of me developing ovarian cancer was an almost no-brainer. That in itself was heart breaking because I still had hopes of having another child.
During my chemo treatments, doctor visits and every time I had the strength to, I made sure that my make up was on, my eyelashes were fresh , my wig was perfectly placed and although I stand 5’10, my 3.5’ heels were going to be comfortable enough for me to wear that entire day. I refused to let cancer conquer my spirit. I know that because I didn’t allow this disease to control my mind, I am a much wiser and stronger person today. I urge my sisters in cancer to do the same. Every time negative thoughts appear, remind yourself that you are a fighter, not a victim. Become a chameleon and change with the time like I did to counter act the side effects of chemotherapy and when someone stares at your hairless head, hold your head up smile, then walk up to them and say I will share my story with you, I’m a tough chick and breast cancer survivor.