OK, before I start with this, you need to know something about me. I am usually a very private person, and I really don’t want people knowing my business. I didn’t want to reveal my cancer because of the unease of what people would say or think if they knew. I realize that I don’t have to share anything if I don’t want to, but after some thought, I can’t be silent anymore. I have to tell you about it. I remember like it was yesterday. It was May 22, 2002; I was 36 when I received a message that would rock my world. The doctor came into the room and told me that I had developed invasive ductal carcinoma, also known as breast cancer.
I was doing a regular check when I felt a lump. I set up an appointment and went to the doctor. I went there with Auntie Shirley. When he gave me that message, it felt like everything just stopped. I don’t remember hearing anything he said after that; I just burst into tears. When I got that message, I just let out a scream, and the tears just started rolling out. I thought I was going to die. It was the worst news that any woman could receive. My mother always taught my sister and me to learn our bodies. I remember her showing us the lump, and it was the size of a grapefruit. You see, my mother had breast cancer twice, and she died at the age of 47. I also learned that my family has a history of breast cancer. I knew that my grandmother died of breast cancer; I am the third generation named Elise to be a survivor of breast cancer.
I am so glad that there have been breakthroughs over the years. My mother took chemotherapy without antinausea pills, and I remember her saying that after a round of treatment that it was like she had sucked on a penny. When she took her treatments, she was usually sick for a few days, but thanks to the advancements, I was able to work through treatment. They now give you medicine for nausea. My mother didn’t have this. Although treatment has come a long way, there are some things that have not improved. One of the side effects is hair loss. During the first round, I lost some of my hair, and after the second round, even more came out. I remember falling into a bout of depression because it felt like I was losing my femininity. I made it through 6 rounds of chemotherapy.
Five years later, in May 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again at age 41. I was devastated because I had just beat it. It felt like I was being sucked back down into a black hole. I couldn’t help but ask, why do I have to go through this again? Why me? Why does this keep happening to me? The third time was January 2018, age 52. I felt another lump in my breast. So, just like before, I made an appointment with the oncologist. I went into the office with Auntie Shirley. The tech explained that the area of blackness was cancer. Auntie Shirley hugged me, and I just bawled like a baby. After the crying, I went through treatment again. After the second round of chemo, I would find myself totally exhausted, not wanting to do anything. Round 3, 4, 5, and finally, 6 rounds of chemo completed. I found myself lying in bed. My sister came into the room, telling me I needed to eat. I could not eat; I was completely out of it. She slapped me on my face and said, “Eat.” I began crying again. Finally, I did eat. I am blessed to say I have endured 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation.
As a 3-time survivor, I want everyone to know that support is essential. I received support from 3 places. Those places are my natural family, my church family, and other sisters who were receiving treatment. Two sisters stand out. The first sister was Julie Weems. Our families grew up together, so because of that, it was easier for us to connect. She was the reason why I gave my testimony in October 2010. As a survivor, I can assure you that every day is a day for awareness. The Lord also had different plans for Julie Weems. She died of breast cancer. The next sister I connected with was Winona Hae Jones. In September 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We would exchange phone numbers and would talk weekly. I began to share my experiences with chemo and radiation. I told her I had cancer 3 times. She said, “What. You are my ‘Shero’”—female version of a hero.
She also called me an “Encyclopedia.” She said, “You know a lot.” I told her I would do research and would find a lot of information. There was a strong supportive bond I had with her, just like I did with other patients with breast cancer. I told her it was like the Lord wanted me to share the information.
One year later, the Lord had other plans for Winona. She died in December 2019. That was a sad day for me.
I wanted to share my experience as a survivor, so it will encourage women to become familiar with their bodies, know their family history, and to get the yearly mammogram.