Surviving breast cancer – Special Feature

Surviving breast cancer

October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month annually.

by Garth A. Rose

Once again, the Caribbean National Weekly is highlighting awareness of the disease that so many women fear, and too often brought to the forefront of their lives in a negative way.

Fortunately, there are the survivors. These are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, have overcome the agony, pain and distress, and are grateful and thankful. These women have moved on to resume their normal lives, while there are other women who are experiencing identical diagnosis and struggling not to lose the battle.

Michelle McCalla-Distant’s story

Surviving breast cancerOne of these survivors is Michelle McCalla-Distant, 51, currently Human Resource Manager for the Sagicor Group in Jamaica.

Michelle’s life was disrupted by breast cancer, at age 43. She told CNW it was in August 2009 while packing her suitcase the night before her annual two-weeks vacation to stay with her sister and other relatives in South Florida, her hand brushed against her left breast and she felt a huge lump.

Lump biopsy confirms breast cancer
“I was taken a back,” she said, “as i usually conduct my breast examinations at least once per month. However, I decided I wasn’t going to panic or spoil my vacation, so I went to Florida and had a wonderful time. Upon my return home I contacted my doctor, Dr. Barbara Noel, who immediately sent me to have a biopsy done on the lump in my breast. To my dismay, the biopsy confirmed the lump was cancerous.

Radical mastectomy

She was immediately referred to Dr. Trevor McCartney, a surgeon in Jamaica, who recommended a radical mastectomy be done on her left breast. “I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. The cancer had reached my lymph nodes. I said a prayer, and immediately agreed to the surgery. I would have done it the next day, but it was scheduled for a date two weeks later since I had to get rid of a cold before the surgery.”

Tremendous support

Michelle said she was fortunate as she had tremendous support from her  family, friends and colleagues from Pan Caribbean (now Sagicor Group Jamaica). “Also, my faith in God kept me strong throughout this ordeal.

My positive personality and attitude towards life also helped – I’m usually a  very jovial person and my cancer diagnosis and mastectomy didn’t change that. Sure, I lost a breast, but the fact was that I was alive, which was most important as I had my then 9 year-old daughter, Mia, to live for.

She expressed also being fortunate to having had health insurance from her job, and a critical illness policy she had “the foresight” to purchase from Sagicor. This helped her to ease the financial strain of the high-cost of the chemotherapy treatments, regular blood tests and doctor’s visits.

Seven bouts of chemotherapy
“I underwent seven bouts of chemotherapy treatments every three weeks. I did them on Friday afternoons so I had the weekend to recoup as chemo left me very weak and nauseous.  I recall drinking ganja (marijuana) tea to help combat the nausea. I actually cut off my hair before experiencing the shock of it falling out. But the drugs robbed me of my eyelashes and eyebrows, and my fingernails became dark in color as the treatment continued. I also lost my sense of taste in the days after chemo. This was frustrating because each time I regained taste again, it was time for another treatment again. That was a bummer!”

“My hair grew back shortly after I ended the last chemotherapy treatment, my eyelashes and eyebrows are still growing; slowly but surely.”

Reconstructive surgery
Michelle had reconstructive surgery approximately a year-and-a- half after having the mastectomy. The surgery was also done by Dr. McCartney who had recommended she wait at least a year before having it.

“My experience with breast cancer has made me appreciate life so much more. Life is too short. We must make the most of it while you still can. I now eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce sweet intake. Exercise is a very important part of my daily routine, and I do try to live free of stress.

Life after breast cancer has been good
“I’m blessed as life after breast cancer has been good. I am very grateful for the professional care I received in Jamaica, and the tolerance of my employer, Sagicor. Today, I am proud to assist the company in drawing attention to breast cancer, and the importance of women having their breasts checked, especially if they feel a lump. Having breast cancer is an unfortunate experience, but it’s not the end of life. Women with this cancer can rebound and live normal lives. I did. I am pleased to share my experience and offer support.”

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