This year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month BET.com interviewed three women about their diagnosis and subsequent treatment. This is Kamesha Miles' story. Erika Wimms and Thelma P. Brown's stories are equally inspiring.
In 2013, I was running on the treadmill at the gym when my right breast started hurting, really more like stinging. I was staying with my parents at the time, and when I got home, I asked my mom to take a look. My nipple was inverted, and I hadn’t even noticed. My mom told me that we needed to get it checked out immediately.
I had my first mammogram at 29-years old. After receiving the results, my doctor sent me to get a biopsy right away. There was a two-and-a-half-inch tumor right behind the nipple. While I was getting the biopsy, I could hear my mom in the background crying. She had been a nurse for 30 years, so she knew what the complications could be and what to expect when someone has breast cancer.
It took two weeks to get my results, and I was diagnosed with stage III invasive breast cancer. I was completely numb. I didn't know what to say. The entire time the doctor was talking to me about breast cancer, I couldn't even hear the words he was saying. Finally, about three weeks later, I broke down and started understanding the seriousness of my situation.
Within two weeks of my diagnosis, I had a mastectomy. They removed my right breast. Then I went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Then I had another mastectomy to remove my left breast. They also removed the lymph nodes from under my arms.
I had six rounds of chemotherapy for eight months, then radiation for 45 days. A year after, I completed radiation therapy; I had breast reconstruction surgery. I also had to take an immunotherapy drug called Tamoxifen for five years.
They also did gene testing because of my age and because I'm African American. We tend to have more aggressive types of breast cancer, which could be genetic. In fact, my great-grandmother and my aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer. My aunt was in her 40s, and I had a cousin who was 32 when she was diagnosed. I also have a niece who is 33, and she has stage IV breast cancer. She was diagnosed a month after me. Plus, there is a lot of ovarian cancer in my family, but most of the breast cancer is on my mother's side.
In July 2020, I was experiencing shortness of breath and having really tight chest pains. It felt like I couldn't move. It felt like my lungs were filled with liquid. At first, I thought that I had COVID-19. I spoke with my mom and she encouraged me to go to the hospital.
At the hospital, I had an X-ray, and found out that I had about two liters of fluid in my pleural space (the cavity between the lungs and underneath the chest wall) in my lungs. They removed the fluid, and it was sent to pathology to be tested. They found out that the liquid was malignant.
I had also been having pain in my leg, and when they did an X-ray, they found a four-inch lesion in the bone in the hip of my femur. I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, which occurs when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
I had my ovaries removed because estrogen can attack cancer cells and increase the chances of it spreading. I had radiation on my leg to get rid of the cancer lesion in the bone. I will have to have bone injections to strengthen my bone. But my primary treatment right now is oral chemotherapy which has saved my life. If I hadn't been on it, I'd be dead. I will be taking it for as long as it works and as long as the cancer cells don't mutate, and the medication keeps working.
I want women to know that it is essential to have conversations about breast cancer. No one in my family had ever talked about how serious it can be. I heard stories about my great-grandmother having the disease, but it wasn't something that was taken seriously for early detection. It helps if you also know your family history as it can help not only with treatment options but also help [determine] when you can start getting your screenings, possibly at an earlier age.
If you have a high rate of breast cancer in your family, I would suggest you start getting clinical breast exams as early as 20 years old. When you go in for your wellness check-ups and get your pap smear, make sure that you're getting a clinical breast exam from your doctor as well.
Also, if you feel something in your body, don't wait. Early detection can save your life. If my cancer had been found a little bit earlier, I might not have had such extreme treatment, and possibly it wouldn't have come back.
If you want to learn more about breast cancer, how to advocate for yourself, different types of treatment available, donate or participate in an event, go to the Susan G. Komen website. Although Breast Cancer Awareness month is in October, the organization offers help and events throughout the year.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.