In honor of Black History Month: Meet Gloria Minus

We are coming to the end of Black History Month and have one more breast cancer story to share for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s “Planting the S.E.E.D. to Health and History” campaign. Let us introduce Gloria Minus. After reading her story, please visit our website to download a free Family Health History Tree and learn about your family health history and risk factors that may affect you.

Pictured: Gloria and her daughter, Renee S. Ashe.

In January 2004 at age 55, Gloria was diagnosed with stage 1 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer. In Stage 1 breast cancer, cancer is evident, but it is contained to only the area where the first abnormal cells began to develop. She had to have 2 lumpectomies to clear the margins.

Gloria worked for an ob-gyn practice through Christiana Care at the time of her diagnosis. She was (fortunately) diagnosed so early because she was on the cutting edge of breast cancer detection. Christiana Care had just gotten breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology and they were using it to watch something abnormal in Gloria’s left breast. For four years, Gloria had a breast MRI every 6 months for preventative measures.

In December 2003, Gloria went in for her routine MRI. In January, she was told that two areas on her right breast warranted a biopsy. One came back benign and the other came back malignant. She quickly went in for a lumpectomy in February and had to be treated with another one in March. After that, she received 33 radiation treatments and was placed on Tamoxifen. She had a bad reaction to the Tamoxifen (weight gain and trouble sleeping) so her oncologist later placed her on Arimidex. Since 2004, Gloria has been breast cancer free! But Gloria has a daughter who was diagnosed with breast cancer last July so she is now helping her daughter with the struggle she faced over a decade ago.

Gloria met the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition through the Breast Cancer Update held in Dover each April. As a survivor, she became interested in all the latest breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and information. She also became a mentor with the Coalition – becoming a one-on-one support system for a newly diagnosed patient and she enjoys helping others in this regard.

When asked about her message to other women for Black History Month, Gloria’s call to action is clear. “We always seem to take care of everybody else and we end up neglecting our own health.” This year, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition encourages you to take Gloria’s advice and make your health a priority. Call the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition today at 1-888-672-9647 to schedule your mammogram. If you do not have insurance, if you do not have transportation, if you do not speak English, do not let that stop you. We will do everything we can to get you screened.

In honor of Black History Month: Meet Natasha Simms

African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other race and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition does not like this statistic!!! This February in honor of Black History Month, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition is running a special “Planting the S.E.E.D. to Health and History” campaign. Visit our website to download a free Family Health History Tree and learn about your family health history and risk factors that may affect you. As a special part of the campaign, we’d like to introduce you to some local African American Breast Cancer survivors throughout the month to share their stories. Without further ado, meet Natasha Simms. She is a breast cancer survivor and friend of DBCC filled with an inspirational message of hope, courage, wisdom, and survivorship in the excerpt below.

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Natasha Simms was 31 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Natasha began screening for breast cancer at a young age, because her twin sister Lynette (featured last week on the blog) was diagnosed just a short while before her. She had a clean mammogram in August 2012 and in September, Natasha felt a lump. Her sister, Lynette, urged her to visit the doctor.

Natasha’s doctor did a biopsy and it came back as breast cancer. She also found out she was BRCA1 positive. She had 3 small tumors and the doctor recommended a mastectomy as the first step. The surgery was scheduled for December. Within that time the tumor had grown 10 times its size and spread to her lymph nodes. So the date of her surgery, Natasha was told she needed emergency chemotherapy. After the second chemotherapy treatment her tumor shrunk back down to its original size and after three more treatments she did the surgery. It was a grueling 8 hours – a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and 17 lymph nodes removed. Recovery was tough. Besides her eyebrows, she lost all her hair and her palms and fingers were black. She had four more rounds of chemotherapy and had some blood transfusions in between. 28 rounds of radiation later, Natasha was declared cancer free.

Because she was young, Natasha was told her cancer was more aggressive. That is why her tumors grew so quickly. But she was also told the treatment worked very well because she was her body was strong to fight back.

Natasha says watching her sister go through cancer made her stronger on her journey. She wasn’t scared of dying because she saw her sister survive and thrive. She says her biggest concerns were shallow thoughts like, “I’m young, I don’t have any breasts, I don’t have any hair, I don’t have a husband”, and wondering why it happened to her. But after her cancer, Natasha says the beauty inside her came out. She didn’t fall back on her physical looks. She appreciated the parts of her body that were functioning and supporting her, like her legs for helping her walk, and her eyes for helping her see.

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On the day of her diagnosis, Natasha recalls a rainbow in the sky. Her sister Lynette told her that was God’s promise that she wasn’t going to die from the cancer. Natasha gained strength and encouragement like this from her sister throughout her journey. She also found comfort in being able to call someone like Lois at the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and talk about what she was going through and all the challenges in her life.

Natasha (and Lynette) are the only ones from a family of 12 to have breast cancer. But Natasha says she had a grandmother that died of ovarian cancer and an uncle who died of prostate cancer. So she has urged her cousins to get their genetic testing. Natasha has 4 children and once they are 18 they will go through genetic testing. Her family and her children are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer due to their family history.

There are still after effects of the cancer that Natasha faces all the time but overall, she feels fortunate that her health is fine. After speaking to her doctor she had a complete hysterectomy to reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer. And because the genetic make up of her cancer she cannot take any estrogen hormone replacements. So she is reading, learning techniques and managing the best she can. She has started to meditate, write books, and hosts a radio and online web show to talk about issues.

For someone who might be newly diagnosed and reading Natasha’s story, she has some words of wisdom, “Life is not over when you are diagnosed with breast cancer. This is just a test to show how strong you really are. Pull your strength from this. Be positive. Keep a smile.”

For any African American women reading this during black history month, Natasha has a special message. In general, we don’t like to go to the doctors. Doctors always have bad news. But you need to be familiar with how your body feels and if anything doesn’t feel right – go to the doctor. And most importantly, listen to the doctor. It might just save your life.”

 

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In honor of Black History Month: Meet Lynette Shannon

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African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other race and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition does not like this statistic!!! This February in honor of Black History Month, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition is running a special “Planting the S.E.E.D. to Health and History” campaign. Visit our website to download a free Family Health History Tree and learn about your family health history and risk factors that may affect you. As a special part of the campaign, we’d like to introduce you to some local African American Breast Cancer survivors throughout the month to share their stories. Without further ado, meet Lynette Shannon. She is a breast cancer survivor and friend of DBCC filled with an inspirational message of hope, courage, wisdom, and survivorship in the Q&A below.

Question: Tell me a little bit about your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. What was the most difficult for you?

Answer: Well at the age 27 my son had just turned 2 and I had just celebrated my 2 yr wedding anniversary. I could remember one day feeling a lump in my under arm and then feeling pain in my right breast. I visited my family doctor who then told me he would have to send me for a mammogram the same day. I was then scheduled for a specialist the same day. Next came the biopsy. I remember sitting in the doctors office with my husband being told I had breast cancer. It was a huge shock. I had a tumor about 4 cm in dimension. I also had 16 affected lymph nodes in my under arm.  

The most difficult part….. Everything! Not being able to care for my son, loss in appetite, restlessness, having to convince people that I was going to be okay and not die. Not to mention the fact that the very medicine that was supposed to save my life….. I was allergic to it. So before every treatment I had to take a dose of bendryl. I had 6 treatments in total. Broken in half because my tumor shrunk so fast that the doctor needed proof that I actually had a tumor. After the 6 treatments every 2 weeks I had 30 days of radiation. 

Question: How did you get through all the tough issues that come from a diagnosis?

Answer: I honestly got through the tough times with the help of God. For no other reason would I be here today with a testimony of healing.

Question: Did you turn to family for support?

Answer: My husband was my biggest supporter along with my family, church family, friends and co workers.

Question: Did the DBCC help you? Or did you have an outside support system like a church or sorority or friends or coworkers who you counted on?

Answer: The DBCC helped me out a lot. They were always ready to have someone talked to me if I had any questions or just needed someone to talk to. Everyone was always there to cheer me on and encourage me every step of the way. 

Question: Did breast cancer run in your family? I know your sister is also a survivor. Did you guys speak about your risk factors before being diagnosed – or do you do so now – especially for the future generations?

Answer: My breast cancer was genetic. I thank God for my plastic surgeon who suggested that I get genetics testing before getting reconstruction. It is at that point I found out it was genetic. At that point I only knew that my grandmother died of ovarian cancer. I was then able to get my second breast removed and help reduce the chance of it coming back.  From that I was able to tell my sister and all relatives that it was genetic. I begged my sister to get testing, unfortunately  that didn’t happen and before long she was diagnosed. 

Question: What advice would you give to a black woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer? Is there anything you wish you knew before that might have helped you along your journey?

Answer: The advice that I would give is don’t give up! Your story does not end with a diagnosis. Have Faith. A doctor once told me that it is really mind over matter. Don’t allow your mind and the things people may say dictate how you heal and survive. You can make it. Go get genetics testing, find out if it runs in your family, there is preventative work that can be done.  The one thing I wish I knew, was to get genetics testing before I had my surgeries.

Question: How are you today?

Answer: I feel amazing and grateful that God would heal me and continue to add years to my life. I’m also grateful for my support group that still encourages me and celebrates my life.  I have so many reminders of what I went through physically that keeps me humble and helps me to remember that I need to share my story and information with others.