Facing Breast Cancer
By Jessica Rolle
It’s important to note that 70% to 80% of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. (http://www.cancer.org)
On May 21st 2011, my Saturday started out like any other normal weekend day. I laid in bed thinking about what a wonderful time I had last night. The previous night I had partied up a storm in Orange County and was recuperating. As I pondered what my plans were for this day, I rolled over on my side, trying to adjust my strap then a thought occurred to me. “When was the last time you did a self-breast exam?” So I started checking and discovered something that I had never felt before. I changed positions and noticed that the lump did not move, I know that before a menstrual cycle I am prone to soreness. But then I thought to myself well it can’t be that time of the month for me already. I stayed in bed and a host of thoughts began to fill my head. “What if it is cancer”? What is its stage? And where do I start seeking information, and finding help.
After convincing myself that I should check it out even though the greater part was saying “oh it’s nothing”, I decided to make an appointment that very day. My first appointment was scheduled for June 18th. During the following weeks, I continued my life as usual but I just could not shake the “what if it is”. As the 18th approached the anxiety began to set in. I went in took a deep breath and said “if it is, then knowing is half the battle”. As I lay on the table, I struck up a conversation with the technician doing the exam. It was at that moment that I realized sometimes we let fear control our decisions in life. The technician confided in me that she has had a lump in her breast for two years but was afraid to go and find out if it was cancerous. I realized that knowing is a scary thing, but knowing early can also be a life saver. So I was a trooper and went through the exam and got a blow pop after I was done, like that was supposed to help right? But I guess a little sugar makes everything go down a little easier.
For the next two weeks I waited for my results, each time the phone rang I would cringe. I was afraid but curious at the same time. Then the call came in, the dreaded call. With sweaty sticky fingers I answered. I swallowed hard, with my heart beating almost out of my chest. Then the news came “Ms. Rolle, we need you to come back in your test results are inconclusive. My response was “inconclusive is good right”? The reply was “it can, but we need you to do further testing”. So now the testing cycle begins again.
My next appointment was in September. During this time my friends were trying to assure me, they kept saying “no way Jessica, you are too healthy. Not you.” But I had a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that something was wrong. By now the lump had moved and increased in size. I found it easier to accept the possibility that this is what it may be than to disillusion myself into thinking that it was nothing at all. Sometimes fear hampers our perception of reality, we see, and hear only what we want to.
By now it is September, with my appointment two days away the doctor cancelled, which a great part of me was okay with. Then September turned into October, then November and another cancellation. Finally after the Thanksgiving holiday, I went in and had a mammogram which did not pick up anything. The doctors were not pleased with the results and ordered an ultrasound immediately. So I am in pain having had my breasts squished from the mammogram, then the ultrasound. At that point, they came back and said “Ms. Rolle, we are certain that you have cancer, we are going to do a needle guided biopsy right now so get comfortable. Oh and by the way, it can hurt just as much as a minor surgery.” Within five minutes of using the new GE ultrasound machine they were able to tell me that I had cancer. I asked her are you sure? “She said yes I am certain, you do have cancer, but we will be able to tell you more in two days after we receive the results from the biopsy.”
On December 3rd, I went in and found out it was stage II cancer, but what I found intriguing was that my tumor was five to seven centimeters. A cancer grows at a rate of 1mm a year, so they reckon that I have had cancer since the age of 30. I thought “you have got to be kidding me right”? “Oh no” was the doctor’s response, “you have a very slow growing cancer and we have to discover why.” At the end of the medical report one of the possible explanations was that because I had exercised and ate healthy all my life it had stunned the cancerous growth all these years. Needless to say, even with cancer, I felt as though I had won the lottery. On November 30th, I had made up my mind to accept whatever the possible outcomes were. For me the initial reaction was how do we fix this. What do I have to do to ensure that it never happens again? I know people deal with things differently, some cry, some get angry, and if it works to help you get through this phase in your life then do it. I sprung in proactive mode, I know I want to live and I was not going to feel sorry for myself and play the ole “why me” card.
Cancer doesn’t scare me; it makes me want to fight harder and win the battle even more. Cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be. We don’t need to live in fear anymore, because fear may constitute a death sentence if we are too afraid or ignorant to seek the facts. Cancer or even the word may evoke fear, but it is all in the mind. I don’t see this as a curse I see it as a trial and a challenge I have to win. It has made me stronger and undoubtedly a better human being. The old adage rings true “that we never know how strong we are until being strong is the only option”. I have made many wonderful friends. Cancer has certainly changed my perspective on life. The simple things don’t matter as much as they once did. Having money, education, a nice house, vacations are all nice, but being able to give back is the most important thing in my life right now. By giving back I can see myself working for a hospital, or as a patient advocate spokesperson. I don’t ever want to forget who I am and what cancer has taught me.
To women everywhere I would say “do not let fear stop you from finding out anything as it pertains to your health.” I have been there and I know that fear immobilizes and freezes us in our tracks, but fear can also motivate us, it can teach us so many powerful and wonderful lessons. We don’t have to be afraid. We can overcome the fears of our lives every day and become the powerful, strong, beautiful women we were meant to be. If you or someone you know suspects they have cancer, go immediately to your doctor. Ignoring this problem will not take it away, ignoring means the cancer is allowed to grow and spread. So be empowered and let’s fight back and show cancer we can win.
I am not saying that in this fight we will not have bad days because we will. We will have days where we will have no energy; we will have days when we are tired of taking so many medications. But these days are okay, because we are only human. On my bad days, I call my other friends that are fighting cancer also and we cheer each other up. Sometimes I go for a short run, but my favorite thing to do now is cook and bake. Staying positive and continuing to do what makes you happy will help you overcome almost anything in life
Having a good support network is critical. This is usually when you learn who your true friends are. I have great friends. I am not able to drive with the Chemo treatments and shots every day. So there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand. I find having a positive attitude helps a lot also. People are more inclined to help someone that doesn’t dwell negatively on the disease. So to anyone in my position, a support group is wonderful. The Cancer Society is a great resource center, having positive friends are a plus also. Friends that can make you laugh, and allow you to cry when the world seems like too much to handle. More importantly enjoy your life. Do things that you always did but in moderation. Don’t stop living because you have cancer.
According to the American cancer society “About 5% to 10% of breast cancers are thought to be linked to inherited changes. Women with these gene changes have up to an 80% chance of getting breast cancer during their lifetimes”. It also states that the relatives can be from either the mothers or fathers side of the family”. The study also goes on to say that “African American or black women are more likely to die of breast cancer. Part of the reason seems to be that African American or black women have faster growing tumors but the reason at this time is not known”. (Sources National Breast Cancer Coalition, www.stopbreastcancer.org, National Center Institute www.cancer.org, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). www.cdc.gov
This article was published in Nu Woman’s Spring/Summer 2012 issue. © Nu Woman Magazine 2012. All rights reserved.