Editor’s Note: This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are aware that several of our women have either beaten the monster or have succumbed to it. This is a true story of one of our women who has survived breast cancer. For obvious reasons we will not refer to her by her birth name. We hope that those women battling the disease could take courage from her story as in her own words: “Breast Cancer is Not a Death Sentence”.
When Dianne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she froze. Thinking her life was over, she crumbled altogether, sobbing uncontrollably for minutes. Cancer certainly wasn’t part of her plan but she had to deal with it. But how?
As her life flashed before her eyes, Dianne decided she could not accept defeat, although it was a tempting option.
“Eventually I realized it wasn’t the end of my life. I told myself I have breast cancer and I just have to deal with it so I embraced it; I never asked why me,” she said.
According to Dianne, early detection saved her life.
“I found a lump near my armpit and I kept wondering what it was. I had a relative who was sick at the time so I did not get a chance to do my yearly check-up. I went to a doctor after my relative passed away. The doctor examined me and she told me everything is fine,” Dianne recalled.
“I told her didn’t you feel the lump? I showed it to her and she touched it, but she told me it’s just fat. It kept on bothering me and I could not let it go. About two or three months later I decided to do a mammogram; I discovered I had cancer not too long after,” Dianne added.
Her heart stopped for a second and her head spun; Dianne could not believe it.
“I did the mammogram and I brought the results to another doctor. The doctor realized there was a mass and she sent me for a sonogram. The mass was still there after they did the sonogram and the doctor told me she has to do a biopsy. When she was doing the biopsy I heard her saying ‘I don’t like when it’s bloody’ and I remembered my relative; she went through a similar process,” Dianne explained.
“When I heard that, everything in me changed. I had to wait for the results and I was really nervous but the doctor reassured me and told me it’s fine, so I felt better. Later, she said she’ll send me to do another biopsy since she did not get everything she wanted. They had to remove the lump. She referred me to another doctor and she told the doctor it was an emergency. When I was preparing to leave I told her you think it’s cancer? She watched me and she said ‘I believe it is 95% cancer,’ Dianne said.
Dianne was crushed. All she could do was cry and as her doctor embraced her, a million questions surfaced. Would she die? And if so, when? What would happen to her kids? What would happen next?
“I went by my vehicle and I started crying; I couldn’t stop. I was all alone because normally when you go for these results, you go alone. I went to the next doctor and he did the biopsy. I had to wait six weeks for the results but I had already planned to go to the U.S. long before,” she said.
“I asked a relative to collect the results on my behalf since I wouldn’t be in Saint Lucia. She called me after she got the results but she wouldn’t give it to me right away; she was avoiding the topic so I knew something was off. I asked her what did the doctor say, she hesitated, but I insisted and then she said the doctor said it’s cancer. It was in the first stage,” Dianne explained.
According to her, it felt like a death sentence.
“Ten years ago, when someone said you have cancer in Saint Lucia, it seemed like the end. All I could think was ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die.’ Then I asked myself what’s the next step? After I received the results I went to a hospital in America and things were so different there. When the doctor saw the paper the doctor said ‘Cancer? Don’t worry, every other woman in America has breast cancer and they live a normal life.’ My mood changed immediately, I had hope,” Dianne said with a smile.
She joined a support group whilst she was in the United States and her entire life changed. Her peers understood her pain and they helped her cope with it. The experience was unlike any other, Dianne stated.
“It made me brave. I had to take chemotherapy, etc., but I had so much hope. I realized breast cancer isn’t the end of my life. When I started taking chemo, it was hard at first because you feel so sick and you have to deal with your hair coming out and all of that, but the group helped tremendously. Your approach has a lot to do with it. If you’re going to sit and worry you’ll deteriorate quickly,” she explained.
“Every time I went for chemotherapy the nurses were astonished. I’d polish my nails—my nails got black because of the chemotherapy and they were damaged but I polished them anyway. I wore makeup and a wig. My feet and hands got black and I could not stand being in water at all so I had to wear gloves sometimes, but I did not let it break my spirits,” Dianne added.
The last time she checked, Dianne was cancer free and she’s praying it stays that way. But if it comes back, she is prepared to deal with.
“I’m not saying I won’t cry, but I am prepared,” she said with a smile.
According to her, having the right group of friends is crucial and makes a world of a difference.
“I believe I am the way I am because of the people I’m surrounded by. They’re positive people and they give you hope; they make you realize that it’s not the end of the world. I make sure I’m surrounded by the right people because I don’t want people to pity me; that brings you down,” Dianne explained.
“My advice for women who are living with cancer is to embrace it. The fear will be there, but embrace it nonetheless and never ask why me. Women who are cancer free should also visit their doctor regularly to ensure that everything is okay. Do whatever tests you can; don’t sit around year after year without getting checked and don’t wait until you’re 40 either because by then it might be too late. If I did not get checked early I probably wouldn’t be here today,” she added.
She continued: “Inspect your breasts regularly and see if there are any changes. The signs for breast cancer can vary; I had a lump and I never had any pain but doctors tell you that some women have a whitish substance coming out of their breasts. The colour of your nipple can also change; some women experience swelling—the symptoms are different. Also pay attention to your diet and exercise regularly.”