By Elise Anna Harris
Before I start, 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 that I had breast 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 someone about it; I have to tell you!
A Breast Cancer Diagnosis
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Friday, May 22, 2002; I was 36 when I received a message that would rock my world. I thought I was going to die. I remembered how cancer had stripped my mother down to bones. 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 self breast examination 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 at the age of 44; I’m not sure how my great grandmother died. I am the 3rd generation named Elise, a survivor of breast cancer.
I am so glad that there have been breakthroughs over the years. My mother took chemotherapy without anti-nausea 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. Thanks to the advancements, I was able to work through treatment. They now give you medicine for anti-nausea. My mother didn’t have this. Although treatment has come a long way, there are some things that still need to be improved. One of the side effects from chemotherapy is hair loss. During the 1st round, I lost 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 persevered. I made it through 6 rounds of chemotherapy.
A Breast Cancer Recurrence
Five years later, in May 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again at age 41. I was devastated because I 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 crying, I went through treatment again. After the 2nd round of chemo, I found myself totally exhausted, not wanting to do anything. Round 3, 4, 5, finally, six 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 (tough love) 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.
Breast Cancer Support
As a three-time survivor, I want everyone to know that support is essential. I received support from two places. Those places are my natural family and church family- two sisters stand out. The first sister was Julie Weem. 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. That was a sad day for me because she was married and had kids. 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 three 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 the other breast cancer patient, Julie. I told her it was like the Lord wanted me to share the information.
One year later, the Lord had other plans for Winona Hae Jones. 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 the family history, and to get the yearly mammogram. Take action!