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My Cancer Journey (Part 1)

I looked at my sister and thought…”if I don’t come out of this I will never see her again or my children or the rest of my family."

In June or July 2007 I went for a routine Mammogram at Community Radiology in White Oak, Maryland when I was told that there was an abnormality. I was asked to redo the test at which time I got the same prognosis. I did an ultra sound and was informed that the results would be sent to the lab for further analysis.

A few days later I was told that I had breast cancer and had to discuss options with my primary doctor. That day and subsequent days, what went through my mind was that I had not done a mammogram in 2006. Anyway, I decided from that moment onwards that I was not going to worry unduly about the situation.

I saw my primary care physician in Washington, D.C. and he said to me: “Oh, you don’t have to worry about it. You’ll be fine. I’m going to send you to the “Breast man,” his exact words which I will never forget. Oh, boy was that reassuring! He referred me to a breast cancer surgeon in Washington, D.C and I made an appointment to see him. The Surgeon was middle aged, very handsome and very charming. He put me at ease from the moment I saw him. By that time my test results had been sent to him and he pulled them up on his computer and looked them over. He showed me the initial test pictures as well as the ultra sound pictures and then proceeded to explain the status to me.

The breast cancer was in its initial stage and it looked like a little needle point on my left breast. I was surprised at how calmly I accepted the diagnosis. I put it to the furthermost part of my mind and heart. I believe this was how I made sure that I maintained my sanity. At no time did I dwell on it or feel sorry for myself. I swept it off the rug and kept it below the rug because most of all I did not need sympathy from anyone. Somehow or other I did not feel sad, just numb. I remember trying to lighten my mood by saying to myself, “And the fun has just begun.” Who did I tell about the diagnosis? I told my sisters, and Dorothea Williams my close friend, who is like a sister to me. Why didn’t I tell other people? 1) As much as I am a people person, I always prefer to keep my personal business private and I do not usually pry into other people’s business. 2) We don’t usually talk about Cancer.

With the Surgeon’s help I scheduled a whole gamut of tests which were mandatory and during those tests someone was always either sticking me here or poking me there. The most painful of all those tests for me was the Biopsy. For that test, something like a Stapler was used to get a piece of the affected area for further testing. “Ouch, I said, during the biopsy. “that really hurt”; but I took it all in my stride. I later discovered that it was the most pain I would feel throughout the entire preliminary tests. All those tests further confirmed the initial prognosis that it was breast cancer in the early stages. The Surgeon asked me what I wanted to do; i.e. start with a Lumpectomy [to remove all the cancer from the breast] or have a complete Mastectomy [cut off the entire Breast]. Naturally, I felt that the latter option was too drastic, so I opted for the former – A date was set for the Surgery at Sibley Memorial Hospital, Washington, D.C., August 24, 2007.

The days leading to the surgery were as normal as possible for me. I went to work as usual. At the time I worked from 11 pm to 7 am taking care of a 90 year old lady. I had specifically accepted that job a year earlier [2006], to allow me to be one of the principal care givers to our Mom. So, after work each morning I went to my Mom’s house and performed the daily duties. I got her breakfast ready, took her clothes our and got them ready for her, helped her to take a bath, made her hair, read the daily guide and scripture for the day, prayed together and had breakfast together. If she had any appointments, I took her there. We also took walks as often as she could. This was a fun time for both of us because we spent a lot of time together. We talked about every subject under the moon; and we laughed a lot.

At no time did I tell her that I had Cancer. She had enough problems of her own. She had suffered three Strokes from which she recovered very well. She had severe arthritis and both knees hurt her tremendously. Furthermore, she was awaiting Bi-lateral Knee surgery. Somehow, my Mom’s life and mine had always been so intertwined. Since I was the first born, I seemed to have inherited all her ailments. I was also suffering from severe arthritis at the time. Her bilateral Knee replacement surgery was first scheduled for August 24, the day of my Surgery but it got postponed to the next Friday, August 31, so I had my first cancer surgery one week before her Knee replacement surgery.

Finally, it was the day of the surgery. It was supposed to be an in and out procedure. My sister, Deanie took me to Sibley Hospital. On the way we talked and laughed a lot as though we had no care in the world. I appreciated her so much that morning. She helped tremendously in keeping me sane and calm. All the staff who greeted us and prepared me for Surgery were extremely nice. They also helped a lot in keeping me calm. I seemed to be in some kind of stupor in which I was not thinking about the situation or what was going to happen. The surgeon came and spoke to me and made sure I was comfortable. All pre-surgery motions were carried out. My sister was still in the room as I was prepped for surgery.

"When the Anesthesiologist came in, introduced herself to me and explained what she would do was when the gravity of the situation dawned on me."

When she held my hand and injected it, I looked at my sister and thought…”so if I don’t come out of this I will never see her again or my children or the rest of my family. The floodgates opened then, and tears were streaming out of my eyes and down my face. The Anesthesiologist saw that and continued reassuring me that everything would be fine. Soon I was unconscious and had the surgery. I woke up in the recovery room and was given the usual ginger ale and graham crackers. My sister was there when I woke up. The Surgeon came and told me that everything had gone well. The staff gave me the post-op directions and forty-five minutes later I was ready to go home. There was bandage and dressing around my left arm and around the left breast but what struck me most was the little discomfort that I felt. After the surgery I went home, rested and went to work at night. I followed all the post op directions; [avoid any type of strain of the left arm; keep the dressing on for a couple of days and keep the area dry]. Except for a little stiffness at times there was hardly any real pain in the breast.

I made an appointment for a follow up with the surgeon. He had told me that what would really determine the success of the surgery would be if the “realms” were clean; i.e. [the area surrounding the cancer spot from the breast to the armpit]. After two weeks I saw the surgeon again and unfortunately, he told me that the realms were not clean. I had to do more x-rays and ultra sounds to confirm that. I went to WRA, Washington Radiology Associates and was told that the Cancer was gone. I went again to Community Radiology Associates and was told that the realms were indeed not clean. Finally, I did some more testing at Sibley hospital and got confirmation that the Cancer was still in the Breast. Another surgery was scheduled for September.

Read more about my story in the blog, My Cancer Journey (Part 2).

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