I Am Living With Stage IV Breast Cancer
For National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an important way to raise awareness about the disease in the African-American community is for more women to speak out about their first-hand experiences with the disease.
Meet Fredda Bryan, 47, a spokesperson and an associate director and community health adviser for the American Cancer Society.
Bryan, a retired Navy air traffic controller who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 36, opens up to BET.com about being diagnosed with breast cancer, living with Stage IV cancer for the past five years, and the joy that raising awareness among African-American women brings her.
What brought upon your diagnosis? And how are you doing now?
One day, I was doing a self-exam and felt a lump. I went to the doctor to get it checked out, and I was diagnosed. I was so angry — in the beginning asking God, “Why me?” And he said back, “Why not you?” And for me I had to let go of what I couldn’t control and that was really hard for me.
And so I went through two lumpectomies, a double mastectomy and 33 rounds of radiation and thankfully my cancer went into remission. But then in 2007, I had a re-occurrence, and I have been living with and managing Stage IV cancer since.
How does one live with and manage Stage IV cancer?
Managing with treatment means slowing down the progression and making it behave. I do treatments once a week for two weeks and then I am off a week. The good news is that there are hundreds of types of chemo, and so my doctors have me on a regimen that works, until it stops working and then I try something else. I am on my 11th regimen since my recurrence.
I have my good days and bad days. The chemo has affected my bones and my memory, but I am so thankful to my medical team and I don’t dwell on the negative.
How did you get started with speaking about breast cancer?
Soon after my treatment was finished, I found myself becoming very involved with advocacy through this speaker’s bureau and later on I found myself doing this for a living. And this means a lot to me, because prior to my diagnosis, my only contribution was sending a check to an organization, because I thought, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about cancer.” But the more I have done this work, the more I refer to it as my blessed journey.
Honestly, just being able to work with the American Cancer Society helped saved my life. Yes, I had really good medical care through the military, but in terms of the social and emotional aspect, it really helped me. You can’t do this alone. And so to give back to other Black women with breast cancer makes this feel less like this is work and more a ministry.
Breast cancer in the Black community has been regarded as a taboo topic. With the outreach that you do, would you say that is still true?
Ten years ago, yes, but today, we are talking about it more. Survivors are talking about it more, you are seeing more presentations about it happening in churches, and women are saying out loud more that they are cancer survivors. Because years ago cancer equated death, but we are living longer now, because the medicine has gotten better and we don’t have to live in secret anymore.
But that doesn’t mean that they are not challenges, which is why I am very transparent when talking to other women. Certain types of chemo do make you lose your hair, but it grows back. Yes, there are side effects, but we have better medicine to help us tolerate them. And obviously, no one wants to be told that they have cancer. But early detection can make a difference, and so it’s better to know than not to know.
Final message for our readers?
Breast cancer doesn’t have to equal death. And that it’s important for us to know our family medical history. What did auntie and granny die from? Was it breast cancer?
Also, we need to be in tune with our bodies and know what breast health means, checking any changes early on and doing self-exams. Most important, we as women have to put our health first.
Learn more about breast cancer here.
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(Photo: American Cancer Society Inc.)