October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Crossroads Chronicle reached out to local women who were willing to share their struggle with our readers. We begin this month-long feature with Lea Ann Williams’ story.
When you think of Cancer many things come to mind. Death, fear, pain, chemo, long suffering, and I could go on and on. But the truth is when I heard those words “It’s Cancer” I thought of my family and how it would affect them. I did not think of the sickness, I thought of what they may feel or how they would take the news. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared but I feared for them more than me. Cancer not only takes a lot out of the patient but takes a toll on close family and friends. In my line of work as a nurse I have seen the suffering and pain of cancer and how it affects those around the patient.
I have always considered myself a healthy person by taking care of myself with good eating habits, taking vitamins, regular checkups, yearly mammograms and moderate exercise. Having done all these things in my life created a false sense of security. No way would I be susceptible to any life threatening illness. Lifestyle is a big factor for a healthy outcome in any situation but in this case all I have done in my life did not spare me from cancer.
The journey with cancer started August 19, 2021 with my routine yearly gynecologist visit in Savannah with Dr. Maryann Barrett. I never dread these visits with her because of her demeanor and kind way she talks with all her clients. She is young and always very positive, so what would I have to fear?
During the yearly checkup she performed a manual breast exam which seemed to be going well until she got to my right breast and said very seriously, “Have you felt this?” To my surprise I had not. This was the beginning of my journey we call breast cancer.
In the journey of breast cancer things can move fast or slow. Mine seemed to move at a snail’s pace for me and my husband. The diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled for September 10, 2021 at 9:30am, 22 days after she palpated a lump in my breast. The waiting was horrible. Once I had the mammogram and ultra sound, more waiting was in the future for results. On September 20, my husband Mike and I went back to Dr Barrett to get my results. The building she practices in would not let him in due to Covid restrictions, so there I was going in by myself to get whatever good or bad news there was to have. Dr Barrett walks in, who is usually smiling, but not today and says she is unable to get my results from the mammogram clinic due to their backlog. My heart sunk and I thought I was going to be sick because I was ready for some answers. She apologized to me many times during our conversation that day and was very upset she had no answers for me. She knew I lived around 90 miles away so when I told her to call me and give me the results over the phone she reluctantly said she would call me as soon as she got them.
The ride home was very quiet except for the intermittent mumblings of my husband saying “I cannot believe we got nothing from the doctor!” He was livid that we had no diagnosis. As I sat in the car on the ride home all I could think were positive thoughts. I knew even if it were positively cancer I was not going to let it beat me. I prayed and talked with God, who was my solace during this whole ordeal. Calmness took over and God was in control. I am also thankful my husband is a praying man because I got a lot of my strength from him and his encouragement throughout this.
The next day, September 21,2021 was a new chapter in my life. You see, I retired from my longtime career of Public Health Nursing back in May 2021 and I was to start my new position with the Emanuel County School System as their first School Nurse Coordinator. I was excited about this position because I wanted to work in this capacity for as long as I can remember. My first day was going to be a memorable one but not in the sense that you may think. The day started with visits to all the schools in the county and meeting with each of the school nurses. I had just arrived at the Swainsboro Primary School Clinic when my cell phone rang, it was the doctor. A sense of calm swept over me as she said my name. “Lea Ann it looks like cancer but it’s promising that we caught it early.” Early is the key word here. The calmness I started to feel soon was mixed with emotion. My long time friend and colleague Missy was the nurse at the school I was at that day. I know when I walked back into her office after my conversation with my doctor I must have had a “look “ on my face because she gave me the hug I needed to get through that moment.
That’s the thing about cancer, there are no words to make it better but the personal contact of just a hug made me feel at peace. The next several days were filled with phone calls to my loved ones and close friends letting them know what was going on with me. Cancer is a hard word to say to the ones you love due to the connotation of chemo, radiation and maybe even death. I was not going to let this thing called cancer rule my world. I have always been a positive individual and swore that this was not going to change me. I would not sit around and wonder why God chose me to have this illness. I would be strong and fight for my health and my life. When an illness like cancer comes your way you must surround yourself with those you love and positivity. I was blessed to have both from my husband Mike who was an inspiration and motivator for me and continues to do so daily.
The day came for surgery to remove the dreaded lump from my right breast, all things were good until I had to walk into the surgical suite of the hospital alone without the support of my rock, Mike. You see Covid restrictions were still in place at the hospital so no one could come in with me. As I checked myself in and had my seat in the waiting area, I began to pray fervently. Mike was to sit in the car and wait during this time. As I prayed with my head down a voice called my name, no it was not God but maybe it was. The nurse said with a smile under her mask that Covid restrictions were being lifted today, so they would be allowing Mike to come into the hospital as soon I was ready for surgery. Oh my !!!! I could have jumped for joy and called my husband right away to give him the great news. Having cancer is one thing but having to go through some of these steps alone is even worse. God does answer prayers!
The surgery was very successful and good news came when my surgeon said she got it all. In the days to come radiation treatments were in my future but very blessed to avoid the dreaded chemotherapy. I kept myself going with my new job and new work friends who were super supportive. My family and friends also gave me a sense of well being and stability through their prayers , phone calls , texts , visits and flowers. Through this journey of cancer I have found out just how strong I can be but above all I have discovered the awareness of how much you need others to make it through any kind of adversity in your life. Cancer is not my friend but it showed me the importance of prayer, family, friends and faith.
“Once I overcame breast cancer, I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.” – Melissa Etheridge
No matter who you are or where you live, breast cancer may touch your life. It’s necessary to understand the warning signs of breast cancer, your risk of breast cancer and what’s normal for you so you can take action if there are any changes in your breasts or underarm areas.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people delayed their regular breast cancer screening. The pandemic disrupted treatment and research progress and more progress is still needed. Through research, growing knowledge about breast cancer has led to new therapies and targeted treatments that improved outcomes for many people. It is research that brings hope to people facing this disease, especially those living with MBC. More treatment options are available for all people facing breast cancer, especially when treatments stop working.
The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the inequities in breast cancer treatments for under-resourced communities across the country, as well as the inequity in treatment between Black and white women. Black women in the U.S. are about 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s one person every 2 minutes in the U.S.
The two most common risk factors of breast cancer are being born female and getting older.In 2022, it is estimated that 44,000 people in the U.S. will die from breast cancer.
The following are recommendations from the National Breast Cancer Association.
Know Your Risk
Knowing your family history is lifesaving. Talk to a doctor about your family history and see how that history impacts your risk of breast cancer. You and your doctor can create a personalized plan to monitor for signs of the disease.
For those at average risk, have a mammogram every year starting at age 40. If you have any signs of breast cancer, finding it early and treating it early may save your life.
Know Your Normal
It’s important to know what’s normal for you so you can talk with your health care provider if something doesn’t look or feel right.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Living a healthy lifestyle is within your control and may lower your risk of breast cancer. Maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol intake and exercise regularly. It all matters when it comes to your overall health and risk of disease.