On Breast Cancer Awareness
Fashion designer Betsy Johnson recently stated, when asked about surviving breast cancer: "I tell you, it's kind of no big deal anymore, it's such a huge club."
And yet, people are still dying from breast cancer.
However, before March of this year, I never thought seriously about breast cancer. I was relatively unaware.
About a year ago, I was listening to NPR and there was a segment on breast cancer risk factors. While listening, I remember thinking that it didn't really have anything to do with me and yet I listened intently. I had a lot of the characteristics of someone who might develop breast cancer: developing early, not breastfeeding your baby (I was 26 and nowhere near having a child), and having large breasts. Essentially, your breasts aren't fully mature until you've produced milk and breastfed a child. Your breast cells are constantly changing and mutating . . .a breeding ground for abnormal cells to develop. And if you have large breasts, you have more breast cells. Of course, you may have none of those risk factors and still develop cancer. But, I had most of the those risk factors.
Listening to that broadcast, I realized that the two risks the two things on my side were that I wasn't menoposaul and I didn't have a family history of breast cancer. Thank God! Cancer affected a lot of people, but our family was healthy and lucky!
About five months later, in March, my mom told me that she had breast cancer. She was diagnosed in December and had been dealing with it privately, having only told her mom and dad.
Four months after that, in July, I said my last goodbye to her.
While white women have a higher rate of breast cancer, African-American women have a higher rate of mortality. Why? The research cites delayed medical attention due to socio-economic reasons such as access to health care. My mom had access to health care and she was in the upper middle class. She had yearly mammograms since she was 40 years old.
My mother was a deeply religious person. She had faith in God. She believed that she would be healed with prayer and fasting. While I asked her the difficult questions after she told me of her diagnosis, the facts are still relatively cloudy to me.
Initially, she decided not to have chemotherapy nor surgery. After her death, I heard different stories about why she delayed chemo or why she hadn't had the tumor removed. My brother said that by the time she was diagnosed, the tumor was too large for removal.
She tried naturopathology and hormonal therapy. She changed her diet.
The cancer spread to her bones, liver and lungs.
When she told me and my brothers, we told her that she must get chemotherapy immediately. When she was hospitalized the first time in March, an oncologist from Kaiser came in to give her and our family the prognosis. They were going to try to the most aggressive round of chemotherapy drugs to help her. Being that the cancer was now in Stage 4, it would probably not go away, but they wanted to stop the cancer from spreading.
"Ms. Miles, why did you wait to so long?" The doctor asked.
"I don't know. I thought God would heal me. I was afraid of the side affects of chemo," my mother answered.
After a short pause, the doctor replied: "Everyone has their time to go. This didn't have to be your time. No one likes chemotherapy. It is hard on your body. If there was another way to cure cancer, doctors would use it. Alternative medicine is okay for your mind and spirit, but the only thing that we know can kill cancer cells is chemotherapy."
The chemotherapy treatments didn't work. Initially, the tumor shrunk, but her liver got worse. My mom's immune system remained low. She was given a chemotherapy treatment when she shouldn't have received one and it was covered up the doctors. She was given absurd amounts of pain medicine, an enema, and tons of other drugs. She had a blood clot. Her body was going through tremendous stress. Maybe that's why she passed so soon. We'll never know.
She went into a comatose state on July 19th, 2011.
She went into cardiac arrest on the morning of July 20, 2011.
She was put on life support and was, for the most part, unresponsive. She would wiggle her toes a little bit. She'd open her eyes, but didn't really focus on anything. We were told that she would probably never wake up. Our family had at least one family member in the room with her at all times in case she did and we promised to always have one person there at all times.
She did wake up, about 36 hours before she passed away, and I will always remember the look on her face when she recognized me. She was able to communicate. She blew kisses at me. She tried to smile. She cried. She wanted to get off of life support and, after an agonizing day of talks, my brothers and I honored her wishes. It was the hardest decision that we've ever had to make, but we knew it was what she wanted. We didn't want to do it and explained everything to her, but she wanted to get off of life support. She was tired. She did well at first and tried her hardest to keep breathing. She lasted two hours. I prayed and sang hymnals with my grandmother and aunts. My mother raised her hands.
She drifted off into a peaceful sleep at 3:29am on July 29th, 2011 at the age of 53.
I am 27 years old and I lost my mom to breast cancer. She was a beautiful, intelligent, kind and special person. She touched so many people. There are so many lessons I've learned and my life will never be the same.
I have never had a mammogram, but I am making my appointment. Early detection is so important when it comes to cancer. Get your checkups. I will ask my doctor all of the questions that I have about breast cancer.
I've thought about getting an elective mastectomy and all that I need to do to protect myself from cancer. I've thought about what I would do if I ever developed cancer. I'd probably be scared. I would need support. I would think about my mom. I would fight. I will not let my mother's death be in vain.
So, I think seriously about breast cancer now. It's a very big deal to me.
I am aware. Hopefully you are, too.