For the month of October, the AFRO is celebrates all cancer survivors and encourages them to share their top tips for surviving cancer. Survivor Marnita Coleman shares a tip and some insight with our readers from her personal battle with breast cancer.
By Marnita Coleman, Special to AFRO
The worst that something will ever be is the very first time you hear it.
It’s 6:29 a.m., and I lay here snuggled in my bed, awaiting the alarm to sound promptly at 6:30 a.m., just so I can hit the snooze button. My mind is scrolling through a virtual list of things to do for the day, one of which is my annual mammogram. I dread this day each year because it hurts. The X-ray machine flattens my breast like a pancake while I try to hold still without breathing, just so the technician can duck behind a glass shield and snap a picture. It’s intense, but it is necessary preventive maintenance for me, especially because my mother died from breast cancer. On the bright side, I enjoy the staff at the doctor’s office. We’ve become friends over the years, sharing family tales, talking about current events, the latest fashion trends, or where to get the best deals on shoes. They are always kind and attentive.
I treated this visit like any other as I expected the routine checkup. I had other things on my agenda, so I didn’t want to delay my plans by chatting too much. I kept the conversation to a minimum in hopes of moving the process along quickly.
The technician took X-rays and then sent the charts to the radiologist, who reviewed everything. Normally, within five to 10 minutes, the tech comes back to give me the “okay” to get dressed, wishes me well, and says something like “we’ll see you in a year.”
But this time, it was different.
When the tech came back, she needed to take a few more X-rays. After the second set of X-rays, I was informed that there was “something” they wanted to take a closer look at, therefore, they were sending me over to have a sonogram done. All I could think about was how long would take. My tech, whom I’ve known for years, assured me it wouldn’t take long and that it was a necessary precaution. Recently, she had lost her mom to cancer and was an adamant advocate for early detection.
After the sonogram was done, the radiologist and the technician came in to speak with me. My tech was visibly upset. The radiologist kept her composure and explained that there appeared to be a tumor in my breast about a centimeter in size.
At that moment, I was more concerned about getting out of there and getting on with my day than I was about learning more about their findings. I was referred to an oncologist who would schedule a biopsy to determine if the tumor was cancerous or not.
I did not break down. I remained calm. I took the information and hugged my technician, who was more upset than I was. I assured her that everything would be alright and then I left to run my errands.
The biopsy was malignant.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, 2.6 million American women are living with breast cancer, more than 178,000 women will be diagnosed and more than 43,000 will die. Screening is the most important way to find breast cancer early, and the standard relies on physical examination, mammography, and ultrasound.
After the biopsy, I decided to tell my husband. I didn’t know what his reaction would be. I was more focused on my response to what was happening. I have strong faith in God, so I prayed. I didn’t share the news immediately with others because they might compare my diagnosis to my mom’s fate. I was careful not to put negative words into the atmosphere. I didn’t even tell my kids until surgery had been scheduled.
I’m going to take you through my experience and tell how I survived. Everyone’s journey is different, and my experience was as unique as my fingerprints. There were highs and lows and many times when I wasn’t sure if I would make it through this dark time. I had to stay focused and push through to the end for myself and for my family.
I lost all my hair.
I developed other complications from having multiple surgeries and I’ve endured intense treatment cycles. I felt unattractive. I wasn’t sure if I was whole after my anatomy had been altered. I was disfigured and flawed, but, I was alive. Through it all, I continued to speak the result that I desired to see.
When unpleasant news breaks, stay calm, don’t react to a negative situation with fear and anxiety. Words have creative power. If you don’t have anything good to say, then say nothing at all. Remember this, the worst that something will ever be is the first time you hear it. Stay positive and you will get through this.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.