When you hear the words "breast cancer", it can easily lend itself to a sea of emotions for any human. According to the Sisters Network, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. In a 2017 report, Susan G. Komen also stated that 113 women die every day from this disease
With odds like these, the women diagnosed with the breast cancer muster up strength like nothing on earth. Not just because they endure unspeakable pain, but because the mental suffering is comparable. For some of them, they have enlisted faith over fear to keep them going.
Fear is dangerous and threatening, so it does not have the right to keep a residence in our hearts. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. My faith keeps me; when it is not developed, I can't be kept. It is a sentiment that breast cancer survivors echo and a truth they live by.
Read the stories of some warriors that keep faith as their first line of defense.
*Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Lianne Saffer, @basic_li
Her Breast Cancer Story:
I felt a lump in my breast when I was on my honeymoon with my wife in Thailand. I would have never felt it, but there was an itch over my nipple that I just couldn't seem to scratch. it felt like it was on the inside of my body. I felt the lump when I was trying to itch it. I let it go and chalked it up to a duct or whatever…. I was 32 years old. Fast forward two months when I felt that itch again and the lump seemed bigger. I went in the next day to have it checked out. It was May 1st, I was barely 33.
They sent me straight in for a mammogram and ultrasound. The radiologist came in after my ultrasound and basically told me there was no way it was NOT breast cancer. I remember it being really dark and really eerie. Time seemed to freeze at that moment. I felt completely numb. I wasn't sure if what was happening was real.
I have no family history, I am young, SUPER active, eat clean, breastfed my children… I did all the "right" things. They sent me for a biopsy later that week.
The waiting was the worst. Five days later, they called and confirmed. Stage 2 HER2 positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. *Cue the Googling* Prognosis seemed to be the worst with this diagnosis and a young age. Doesn't make a lot of sense but basically, if you are young, your cancer is more aggressive.
I fought tooth and nail with insurance etc. and an angel from the internet was able to fight for me and get me an amazing team of doctors. I was self-employed at the time, so my insurance wasn't the best and it truly was a nightmare. Thank God for the angels on social media.
I immediately saw a surgeon and an oncologist. My port was placed two weeks later in my chest and chemotherapy started the following week. I had six rounds of tamoxifen, carboplatin, Herceptin, perjeta. Each round got worse. I lost my hair, my lashes, brows. I got blisters and boils all over my body, in my mouth and nose. I lost feeling in my fingers and toes. I couldn't eat or drink for that matter. The nausea was horrible, the steroids the worst. FATIGUE! Diarrhea, night sweats, insomnia. The list goes on (you'll find info on each round on my IG).
I continued to teach and workout throughout all of it. I just took a week off after each round. 20 days after my final round, I had a double mastectomy with expanders placed. I am now six days post-op and my chest is black and blue. I will have these expanders in for five months until my exchange for implants. Meanwhile, I have another 11 rounds of Herceptin/perjeta every three weeks. The good news is, the side effects of this are just stomach upset and fatigue. I can handle that!
I had made a decision to be very public about this from the beginning. We all walk around like nothing is going to happen to us and then BAM, your life is forever changed.
My life stopped, everyone else's marched on.
It's all so weird. I kept thinking, my whole job is to inspire people and help them in hard times… why couldn't I still do that? For my sixth round of chemo, I asked people to dance. Spread some joy and get weird. Nobody gets mad when they are dancing and it literally lifts all spirits. The response was HUGE. I had videos on IG coming in from all around the states and the world. music videos, people laughing, dancing, letting go. I realized that anyone can make an impact and what happened that day will hold a huge space in my heart forever. For ONE day, people felt so much joy, and they got to give, and feel good. I still get joy thinking about it. HUNDREDS of videos.
Also, I just found out Tuesday, October 2nd, that I am CANCER FREE. Cannot stop sobbing.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
I was never really afraid… nor mad for that matter. When most people say, "Why me?", I say, "Why not me?" It could happen to anyone. I was shocked and I was sad… There were times when I didn't know if I would make it, but I just continued to look for the joy. There had to be some. Fear never wins. It's crippling and it has no room in my vocabulary.
Angela Agogo, @angeeze
Her Breast Cancer Story:
I was happily working as a college professor in January 2018; spending time with my family, and actively serving at my church. All was good in my world until one day when I found "the lump". I pride myself on NOT being a hypochondriac, so I tried to rationalize it. As time passed, I noticed that the lump started to get bigger and more firm. I was hesitant to go to the doctor because I had no medical insurance so I did some research and found out the Planned Parenthood does women's wellness exams for fairly cheap. They sent me to a mammography clinic to get the lump examined.
The biopsy and mammogram performed found three lumps, one of which was in my lymph node making things more serious. When they called me to come in to discuss my results, I already had a feeling I had breast cancer. They diagnosed me with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. There is no family history of any cancer so I had to be tested for the BRCA (breast and ovarian cancer) gene, which I was positive for.
Seriously, when they gave me the results, I wasn't even worried about cancer. It was my hair that I started to get sad about. I waited a few days before I broke the news. Over a two-month period, I first told my siblings, then my parents, then my coworkers, then family friends, and finally my friends. People were telling me things like, "Oh no, you don't deserve cancer!"
I'd have to explain to them that cancer is not prejudiced. You can have a perfect health record and still get diagnosed.
People would also tell me about family members and friends they knew that died of cancer, which did not help at all. Before I started treatment, I took protective measures and froze some eggs for future reproduction. I was informed that the chemotherapy would most likely cause me to enter early menopause. Since I have the BRCA gene, it is also advised that in my 40's, I remove my ovaries because I am at great risk for ovarian cancer. I've been doing aggressive chemotherapy, had a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.
Some days are good, and some days I struggle to get out of bed but I'm pushing through. There are still a lot of people in my life that don't know about cancer so I wore wigs to hide my secret.
I am a young black woman living with breast cancer and I refuse to let this take me down.
I have a great medical team behind me and I personally believe God is the greatest oncologist so I'm not going to stress over this diagnosis and make myself even sicker.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
I constantly pray to God to remind me that no matter how much I feel like giving up, I need to let faith and trust be my first response, instead of fear.
Natalie Wilson @highhealdiaries
Her Breast Cancer Story:
In February of 2008, I was lathering up in the shower and came across an unusual lump in my right breast. I could literally grasp it under my skin and slightly move it from side to side. I didn't think much of it but perhaps it was a clogged milk duct still trying to drain. I made an appointment with my family doctor who sent me for an ultrasound and mammogram. They both came back inconclusive, but perhaps a calcification of a milk duct from my nursing days. Something told me it was more, and I got a referral to see a reconstructive surgeon who specialized in patients with or who had cancer. So this doctor did her check up and said let's wait and see if it changes in the next six months. Six months later, we just decided to remove the lump. I went back two weeks later to get the stitches removed and then I received the dreaded news.
I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
It's considered a "pre-cancer" of the breast's milk ducts that can turn into cancer if not treated as such. She also found a spot of invasive breast cancer that was high grade and aggressive growing. I wanted it out immediately. My heart sank, I cried and the doctor was sad for me as she too didn't expect these results. I mean, there's no family history of breast cancer and I was a very healthy young woman. Why did this happen and how? An MRI showed more spots in the surrounding marginal area of where the lump was removed and the recommendations were to remove more tissue and go through radiation or do a nipple-sparing mastectomy and remove most of my breast tissue, then go on this medication called Tamoxifen for five years, which lowers the rate of cancer coming back. Of course, I chose the most radical route of the two as I didn't want to ever deal with this again.
I chose to remove both my breasts and do the reconstruction. I had so much longer to live, and my three babies to watch grow up. I didn't want to worry about this horrible disease for the rest of my life.
Within the next one and a half years, I had ten surgeries to try to reconstruct my breast. I had many complications from excessive scar tissue build up, multiple hematomas (a collection of blood outside the blood vessels causing blood to leak out into surrounding tissue causing swelling and pain), excessive loss of blood causing me to need two blood transfusions, and thinning out of my chest (pectoral) muscles making it hard to hold the implants, just to name a few. I persevered and made it through all of these surgeries with the help and support and all my family and friends. It was emotionally taxing on my family and me, but I learned that I was stronger than I thought and that God was on my side. After all, the reconstruction part was just cosmetic; albeit a very important part of my healing process. I knew that seeing myself in the mirror with my clothes off and still resembling a woman that way was half the battle with my recovery.
I ignored those who at times made me feel like I was being vain by reconstructing my breasts and putting in implants.
Eventually, years had passed and my doctor was at odds with what to do next. After years of research, she decided to refer me to a doctor at St. Michael's teaching hospital in Toronto who did a certain procedure using human cadaver tissue called Alloderm, and my own body fat to create more normal looking/feeling breasts. The new surgical saga started in 2013. All was going well, and I was so looking forward to closing this chapter of my life.
But complications ensued. I formed a hematoma again, and my previous incisions had started to burst open due to the pressure the implant caused. I now had less skin to stretch out over the implant as a good amount was removed with the nipple and areola. My skin was ultimately thinned out and pressure ulcers were bursting open literally causing holes in my breast skin. I was not healing well and was in a lot of pain. I had an emergency surgery to remove the implant, fix the open wounds, and put a smaller spacer in until I healed. At that time the doctor decided to remove some more tissue to test just as a precautionary measure. At the follow-up appointment, she sat down to talk about my pathology: the DCIS I had in 2008 had resurfaced in two more spots in my breast. The same right breast!
I was devastated. All I could think of how did this come back? I thought that because I had chosen to go so radical and do the mastectomies, I would never have to worry about this dreaded disease again. I was second guessing my choices and wondered if I had chosen to just take out more tissue and do radiation back in 2008 then maybe this would never have come back. Second guessing wasn't helping me though, and I had to regroup and take the next step toward getting rid of this cancer. I had to get through this. One thing I learned that all women should know is that a mastectomy never removes 100% of your breast tissue; therefore there is always a small chance of reoccurrence.
My sixteenth surgery was booked to remove the implant altogether and remove more of my breast to check for further cancer. I was on my way back to square one. Everything was removed, fat and implant. I was now left with no breast. The chances were slim that I'd ever get an implant back in. I was upset of course, but once again, how could I complain? Women lose their lives on a regular basis from this disease so I was grateful to even be here to have these multiple surgeries. Three weeks later, the pathology report came back negative. There was no more DCIS or invasive cancer found and I would not need radiation. I finally was hearing good news after all the bad news I heard. I was thankful that everyone's prayers had worked.
At the moment, I am undergoing reconstruction all over again, using my latissimus dorsi muscle from my back to reconstruct a breast. I am on surgery number 19 and have two more to go to complete the process. I have been learning to live with one breast over the last two years, and the prosthetic has been good to me, but realize that I would be more content with a fully reconstructed breast. It's hard to see myself in the mirror at times, but I've learned to just ignore it.
Having my breasts are no doubt a physical reflection of my womanhood, but it's not a reflection of my core being as a woman.
I've learned a lot more this time around. I've reevaluated everything in my life, again, such as my relationships, my goals, my stressors, my spirituality, my health. I am still beautiful, inside and out. It's been a physical and emotional journey, and I am still recovering, and all the while I've done it with the help of God, my family, friends, inner strength, courage, and... a little bit of lipstick.
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
To me, faith over fear means that you surrender all to the Most High. There comes a time in life, after suffering many hardships, that you have to stop saying, "Why me?" and start saying, "Why not me?" Got has the ultimate plan, so you just have to stop living in fear, and just be well with it.
Without a doubt, I believe 100% that your struggles are given to you to mold you and prepare you for what God ultimately has planned for you.
I use myself as an example of this because I know that there could be no other reason that I was given breast cancer three times, lost a sister to gun violence, lost a child while four months pregnant, just to name a few, but for no other reason but to strengthen me for my duty ahead, which was to empower, motivate, inspire others. He simply was testing and preparing me, and truthfully I wouldn't have it any other way. I believe if I lived in fear all the time of what might come, then I would not be able to release myself and allow my faith to take over.
Khiana Leapheart, @Prissyandposhboutique
Her Breast Cancer Story:
Imagine, being under 40, newly relocated to a bigger city while suffering in silence for several months from sudden random severe pain in your breasts. I became a little concerned about the pain, so I did a breast exam and it didn't feel any different than the typical soft, movable bit of lumpiness that I had been told a year earlier existed because I had fibrocystic breast. But, this random pain in my breast had intensified to the point that it was waking me up at night. So, I did what any savvy woman would do. I researched on the internet! I read several different sources and they all said, "Breast cancer lumps are hard, non-movable, and lumps from cancer are not associated with pain." It suggested that pain was likely the cause of a cyst. I closed my laptop and was like oh, ok I got a cyst.
Well, chile I was too busy with my corporate career, children, holiday events, and traveling to be worried about going to the doctor about this cyst I diagnosed myself with via the internet. So I continued to suffer in silence in pain for several more months until the pain was so unbearable, it would hurt for the water to run down over my breasts. So, I finally was like okay, let me go get this cyst checked out.
My doctor didn't feel a lump either but couldn't believe all the pain I was in so she sent me to get a mammogram. After an ultrasound and biopsy, I got the call that no woman wants to receive, "Khiana, you have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma." I was like, whoa duck what now?
The radiologist then explained it was the medical name for breast cancer. I was like, "Wait, hold up. I'm not at risk for cancer."
I'm under 40, 100% healthy, active in the gym, no family history, and there are no lumps in my breast. She explained that you don't have to be "at risk" to have cancer. After the phone call, I sat there in shock. All I could think about was, "Who the hell do I call to tell I have breast cancer?"
I learned I had Stage 2 Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is a rarer and slightly more aggressive form of breast cancer.
This meant a 19-month aggressive, healing treatment plan. It included hardcore chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation, and then another chemotherapy in pill form. Despite being told emphatically that I would lose my hair, I still refused to cut it and so it started falling out in clumps from my scalp nonstop almost. And, after only two chemo treatments, I was without hair, eyebrows, lashes and soon to be without breasts! I had to TRULY learn what it means to love yourself in the purest form.
Along, the journey one thing I was CERTAIN of is I didn't wanna look like what I was going through; as God was manifesting my healing. So every week that I would go to the Cancer Center, I'd wear a statement piece (sometimes twice a week if I was feeling myself! Haha!)
Other patients would often ask me, why was I putting so much effort into how I looked when chemo was making me so sick. I would respond because, "I want Cancer to know I'm alive, fighting, and gone look good while doing it!"
At that time, I didn't know God was birthing a vision in me. Because I was only focused on fighting for my life and assisting my body in its healing. But, I have always been into fashion accessories and being unapologetic about my fashion and style identity. So as I would come runway ready to chemo, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of joy when other patients would ask me to help them look better than they felt.
I want to share with all women that the Faith, Strength, and Courage you show every day that you choose to get up and fight through whatever you're battling with means you're a SURVIVOR! So be unapologetic, own the room. And, out of my heart of joy from surviving Breast Cancer and inspiring others, I am launching Prissy and Posh Boutique so that every woman has a statement piece. Because we all deserve to be "Fly on purpose."
What Faith Over Fear Means To Her:
Faith over fear means to me trusting God completely and knowing that just like he gives you breath to breathe every day. He will also see you through in every aspect of your life and the more you focus on the trust you have in him, the smaller and less significant the fear will become.
Featured image via Lianne by Amy Shick
Originally published on October 10, 2018