This year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month BET.com interviewed three women about their diagnosis and subsequent treatment. This is Erika Wimms' story. Thelma P. Brown and Kamesha Miles' stories are equally inspiring.
Fourteen years ago, I was walking down the school hallway where I taught and felt a sharp pain in my right breast. I touched it and felt a lump. And though I had always heard that breast cancer wasn't painful, something in me said to call my doctor. I did later that day, and went in to see him the following day before heading to work.
The look on his face when he felt the lump told me everything. He said, 'I can't say definitively, but this feels like breast cancer.' I hadn't even taken the day off from work because I didn't think that it was going to be anything serious.
Instead, I was told by my doctor that I needed to get a mammogram ASAP. Within days, I had one, and I was told again that it looked like cancer, and then I had an ultrasound with the same results. That’s when I was scheduled for a biopsy.
In the interim, I met with a surgeon, and he said the lump in my breast felt like cancer and gave me two options. Either we could do the biopsy and wait for the test results, or we could save a step and go ahead with the surgery to remove the lump and then have it tested.
I wanted it out, so I opted for the surgery, a lumpectomy with no dissection, meaning they went in under the arm.
During the surgery they also removed three lymph nodes and tested those as well to see if the cancer had spread beyond the breast. They thought that they caught it early and that it probably hadn’t spread beyond the breast, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Not only did the biopsy come back positive but it turns out the cancer had spread to three of my lymph nodes.
I had a second surgery to clear a margin; they needed to check to ensure that it hadn't gone any further than those lymph nodes. Thankfully, it hadn't, but that was also when I found out that I had triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease common among African American women.
I was happy that I listened to my instincts that told me to get tested because there were so many people telling me not to worry. After all, breast cancer doesn't hurt.
I was 35 years old at the time, and I didn't realize the depth of my diagnosis. I had two sons, who were only 6 and 3 years old, and I kept thinking, ‘I have to be here for my babies.’ They were my focus. My oncologist recommended that I do chemo and radiation because there's always a possibility of a cancer cell somewhere in the body that they can't see. He said, 'you are young, and you want to be here for your kids.'
Chemotherapy was hard for me. I watched other people do chemo, and they were able to handle it, but I couldn't. It was absolutely horrible. It knocked me down as I had never been knocked down before. But I was fortunate and thankful that I had my parents and my sister who stuck by me along the way.
My parents would watch my 3-year-old while I had chemotherapy treatments, and my sister took off every other Friday and came with me. Everyone I knew, including my friends and the people who I worked with, rallied around me and helped. No matter how horrible those treatments were, the point is that I'm still here, and it was worth those seven months of feeling absolutely crappy and five years of memory fog to be able to say, I made it.
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.