Author: Tamira Armwood, Breast Cancer Survivor, University Medical Center New Orleans
I clung to the words like I do to my rosary when I pray: tightly. What was supposed to be a routine mammogram screening at age 40 turned into a quick discovery of a mass on my right breast. Immediate emotions of fear and worry consumed me. But then a moment of relief came: After the biopsy, we determined the mass was benign.
That was July 2014, but the start of my journey against cancer did not begin until six months later.
Fast-forward to January at my follow-up appointment. My radiologist performed another biopsy, but this time, the results were not so favorable. “Stage 2 Breast Cancer,” she said, which means the cancer inside of me was growing, but still contained in the breast and nearby lymph nodes.
Because of the cancer’s aggression, a treatment plan was immediately created.
I can’t remember any thoughts that weren’t concerned with my own disbelief.
I couldn’t have cancer. I have no family history of it! Did she really just say those words? How am I going to tell my daughters? What if I don’t make it?
I prayed for strength, courage, wisdom, hope and support, and the amount of each of these needs I received from my husband and daughters was nearly two-fold. Like me, they had no certainty of what was going to happen. Unlike me, fear was not their focus but, rather, the fight.
When my treatment plan was established, my breast surgeon informed me I would need a lumpectomy performed to remove the lump from my breast. In addition, I would have to experience 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment plus 33 days of radiation. The information, tests and costs were overwhelming, but then I meditated on Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to give you hope and a good future.”
What this told me was that I was not near my end.
In my diagnosis, there was hope. After my treatment, there would be a good future.
If there is anything this disease has taught me, it is how to embrace the little things in life.
On this journey, I experienced a great degree of setback: hair loss, excessive weight gain, nail discoloration, lymphedema and periods of extreme fatigue. What I gained, however, was far greater. After my diagnosis, I smiled more. I shared more information with family and, even, strangers. I got excited more. I displayed courage more.
In the most unexpected way, I have become more grateful for the little blessings this experience has given me. It has brought my family closer together, mended broken relationships and been a common cause for which we can all show passion and compassion.
If you are someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, my advice to you is this:
Know there is hope. Stay the course. Stand in Faith. And never quit.
I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but genetic breast cancers only account for about 15%-20% of all breast cancers. That’s why it’s so important to get screened.
Because of this mantra, I preserved through the fight.
Because of my annual mammogram, I became a breast cancer survivor.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story with you.
For more information about mammograms at UMC, visit http://www.umcno.org/mammograms.