THERE are so many hurdles that women are forced to jump through in life, hurdles that make men cower. Yet, women power-sail above those hurdles while making it all look easy. Among the countless hurdles is breast cancer, which is the number one killer among women in St. Lucia.
Notwithstanding the fact that there is a miniscule number of men who have suffered from this disease, it is safe to say that this is predominantly a women’s issue and so in the month of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it would be remiss to not feature one brave female soldier who has been beating this disease for over a decade.
June Mitchel is admirable and inspiring, to say the least, because she has proven to be the epitome of “Girl Power” and has shown that even though breast cancer tried to break her down and tear her apart, she is still standing tall and strong and is helping others to do the same.
As a member of Faces of Cancer, as well as the Head of Reach To Recovery, Mitchel definitely knows how to walk the walk and talk the talk and she does just that: giving women like her hope and a fighting chance to be winners just like her.
Read about her journey so far and why women should take this disease head-on rather than be afraid of it.
The VOICE: You are one of the strong faces of cancer in St. Lucia, someone who has been through a whole lot with this disease. But for those who don’t know, give us the details of your situation.
Mitchel: I was diagnosed in 2006, so I’m an 11-year survivor and going strong. I have been working behind the scenes for years with different patients – newly-diagnosed, as well as those who have passed and those who still go on. There are times when I get very depressed when they pass, you know. But I still go on to show people that there is life after cancer.
The VOICE: What went through your head when you found out you were diagnosed with the disease?
Mitchel: When I was newly-diagnosed, I remember Dr.Greenidge telling me: ‘Juney, what we found was that you have breast cancer and we have to do all of this…” I was standing and when he told me to sit, I couldn’t. I had an idea that something was up already and so he told me that I had breast cancer and that he had to do a mastectomy because the tumour was 4 cm by 6 cm and that he had to remove the breast. After he had explained everything, I only heard half, to be honest. I left his office and was the smiley person as usual, but that was the longest trip to Gros Islet that I ever had.
When I got home, my son was there, but I just passed him and went to my bedroom and sat and just broke down on my bed. I was asking God ‘why’, because I had gone through so much. I was working as a single parent with my twin daughters who had just finished tertiary education at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, and just when they were about to graduate was when I got this news. I was like, ‘Oh, boy’. Just when I thought I was getting a break. I cried and cried but would you believe me when I tell you that was the last time I cried?
When I cried it out, my son held my hand and was like: ‘Mommy, I’ll be there with you. I am there with you!’ I cried and then when I was through, I felt a relief.
The following day, Marie-Anne Bergasse — God bless her — called me and asked that we meet in town. When we met, she advised me to make the doctors do the entire mastectomy and to not let them take out only a piece. She relaxed me and made me feel better. The caring person that she was, she gave me the strength to go through with the surgery and to carry on and to do my best.
I must also big up doctors like Dr. Gomez, Dr.Ketra Tobias, Dr. King, you know, and from then on, the support that I had from family, friends and my workplace. I stood firm, I’m still standing firm and I will continue to stand firm and help as many people as I can.
The VOICE: You have been in remission for 11 years. Talk me through your journey, and tell me where your head/heart is at today.
Mitchel: I have always been this strong woman. I used to train and I would do all my business on my own. I’m not the type to depend on anybody to do anything for me or ask anybody to do anything for me – the challenge was that I can no longer do that. I cannot move the fridge or the wardrobe and that gives me a…you know. But I have to remember that in order for me to be there for my children, my grandchildren and those who love me, I shouldn’t do it. Somehow, I always find somebody — children or loved ones — who will tell me don’t do it and they will do it for me.
So I thank God for that and also try to be there for others to teach them that cancer is not a death sentence. Early detection is key but in the event that you find it late, please do not hide it. I have been with some patients who, when they were told they have cancer, or even when they suspect they have cancer, they don’t want to tell people. But, come on, this is 2017 — do what you can to conquer it and be proud to say that you have conquered it. I stand here and, as Marie-Anne Bergasse always said, we’re not survivors, we are conquerors. I stand here as a proud conqueror and I will continue to do so
The VOICE: You mentioned that you had a mastectomy (surgery to remove one or both breasts partially or completely). Now there is the misconception that having this surgery makes you less of a woman and women with breast cancer truly fear this procedure. What do you think about this misconception and how would you clear it up if you could?
Mitchel: I’m a woman and I’ve not missed out on anything, not even in my love life. I would love to tell anybody that you did not go to any supermarket to buy this disease. So in the event that you have to lose your breast or hair, the people who love you will love you right through it, and they will be there for you. This is where you see true love, so it doesn’t matter. Never look down on yourself and tell yourself that you are less of a woman — never, ever. For that matter, you are even more of a woman when you can face this and conquer it. Conquer this fear and stand firm, stand strong.
If someone does not want to be with you because you are this way, then they can go along, and you need to have the strength to tell them to move along, and you feel good about yourself. In the Bible, it tells you if your eye or your hand is giving you problems, take it out. So if the breast is giving you problems, TAKE IT OUT (laughs). Move on, live on. The Almighty will always love you.
The VOICE: What piece of advice would you give to women, whether newly-diagnosed or in remission?
Mitchel: Stand firm and be strong women. Be strong. Give yourself strength. Pray because the Almighty gives a lot of strength when you need it. Be strong and call me if you think you have a problem or you need an answer to something or you feel down. Give me a call. I will give you the strength. Trust me, I will be there.