Beth, diagnosed at 39
When I was in the 11th grade in 1985, I found a lump in my right breast when I was in the shower. I knew it hadn’t been there before, so I immediately told my mom about it. My mom thought the best course of action was to have it checked out and made an appointment for me with her gynecologist. Though the mass proved to be benign, the doctor suggested we have it removed. This was to be my first lumpectomy and the beginning of my journey with fibrocystic disease.
By 2004, I had endured three more lumpectomies all in my left breast. As a result, the lower quadrant of my breast was significantly diminished. There was one occurrence in particular where a lump brought extreme concern to my husband while being intimate. He made the comment that the lump felt different. Since I was accustomed to this, I wasn’t very concerned. My husband was still worried about it and wanted to talk about having it checked out. Needless to say, his ‘timing’ may not have been the greatest, but it was the perfect time to pay attention. I was married to an amazing man, who supported me through every surgery and never once made me feel any less beautiful or sexy because of the change to my breasts. His attention to detail potentially saved my life. We had two fabulous little boys and a daughter. In every aspect, we were happily married.
Shortly thereafter, I called my breast surgeon. I hadn’t had any of my female annual exams for a few years, actually not since my last lumpectomy in 2004. I just hadn’t made the time for them. But now, there was a concern and I was facing a lay off due to a restructuring at work, which would affect my insurance status. I knew I needed to get into the doctor’s office and have the mass checked. The office scheduled an appointment and I was expecting another benign tumor and possibly another lumpectomy. Seeing the high levels of calcifications, my doctor was concerned enough to perform a biopsy right then in his office. This time tests showed something different. This time the calcifications were not benign. In 2007, at the age of 39 I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), stage 2 and the cancer was estrogen positive (ER+).
I understood some of the vocabulary of cancer, since I had dealt with benign tumors most of my adult life. Additionally, I walked closely with my best friend during her fight and had the very sad experience of losing her to breast cancer right before I was married. That loss, in conjunction with my previous history, really impacted my life and made me even more breast health conscious. I decided to try to do something to raise awareness about the disease. I created the Pink Ribbon Krystal Kollection as a signature line to include in my t-shirt line called KingdomKlothes, which connects the message of breast cancer awareness to messages of faith, hope, victory and support. My best friend, without knowing it, put me in a position to have knowledge about a disease I would now have to face myself. Team Pink Diva (my breast surgeon, husband and I) made the decision to undergo a unilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and a TRAM flap reconstruction.
My husband and I thought it was important right from the beginning to tell the children, (boys, then 4 and 11 … daughter 20), what was happening and include them in every step of the healing journey. We didn’t want them to be scared, but we wanted them to understand what was happening. We found pictures online to help explain what cancer looked like and made the process elementary. We told them the cancer was something bad in mommy’s body that needed to be removed. While we were telling them that mommy had this bad thing in her body, we were also very positive. We wanted them to know mommy had not given up and that I never would. I, the Pink Diva, was going to deal with this and then get back to living life in some wonderful shade of pink!
In the early stages of trying to promote my clothing line and create my business, I made an unusual connection. I had been looking for organizations that might help me make my dream a reality, but more importantly, benefit from the powerful affirming messages of breast cancer awareness. As I was searching for organizations, I learned about Sisters Network , Inc. which is committed to increasing local and national attention to the devastating impact that breast cancer has in the African American community, and called. I knew it had an upcoming conference and I hoped to be a vendor. It turned out I wasn’t able to afford the booth fees at the time, but I was persistent. I wanted to know how else I might work with the organization. I had become affectionately known as “Best Pest” to the Founder/National President, who so generously kept taking my calls. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I instinctively called her. At first she didn’t take me seriously, as my normal call would have been to discuss the upcoming event, but when I informed her I had just been diagnosed, she became my greatest ally. She provided me with critical information and let me know she was a resource for me.
Along with motivational speaking and mentoring, I continue to be an active member of Sisters Network, along with Young Survival Coalition, as a trained volunteer survivor navigator and Ambassador. I accept my breast cancer experience as a challenge that was given to me to prove my faith in the power of a confident outlook and the ability to ‘sPrINKle’ others with P.I.N.K. (Points to Invoke Notice to Knowledge) while inspiring them to fight … live … and survive. I am grateful to the community that surrounded me while I was in treatment and continues to support me. My faith and the commitment of my family and friends gave me the strength to stay determined and to keep a positively ’PINK’ attitude. It helped me to adapt to the breast cancer world and gave me the ability to help my sisters and brothers. I embrace the pink movement of breast cancer, for me it’s about keeping the faith, finding the strength in it and ‘sPrINKling’ others to as well! … sPrINKles