October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual movement to raise awareness about breast cancer. Breast cancer has touched many people and families over the years, and the pandemic has turned everything upside-down, including the medical industry. Last year patients encountered issues with early detections, in-person doctor visits, and access to routine screenings. Even though they encountered some challenges, the fight continued. Behind every diagnosis is a story, and we have three incredible people who want to share theirs.
Ms. Johnson is a wife, mother, and grandmother who is very faithful about getting her annual mammogram. During the fall of 2008, she noticed a lump but kept going about her life. At the beginning of 2009, she visited her General Practitioner for her routine physical. The doctor noticed the lump and suggested they run some tests. Ms. Johnson was not concerned, considering she had no family history of cancer. She got a biopsy on Friday, and the doctor called with the results on Monday. Mrs. Johnson grew up in Louisiana, and she remembers her elders passing, but no one ever talked about cancer. The course of treatment changed when she realized she was diagnosed with “Triple Negative Cancer,” which is very aggressive and challenging to treat. This cancer affects more African American and Latino women. Ms. Johnson’s treatment span from July 2009 through September 2009. She stayed vigilant about her health, knowing this type of cancer could return three to five years later.
One day she was out shopping with her daughter-in-law; a lady approached her to see if she would enter the Mrs. Illinois pageant. She thought the idea was far-fetched since she had no pageant experience. However, she felt the pageant was exciting, fun, and stress-relieving. She never mentioned that she was a breast cancer survivor; she wanted to win on her merit. After being crowned Mrs. Illinois in 2011, she used this platform to spread the importance of early detection.
Mrs. Johnson believes “early detection is the key,” along with a strong faith in God. She advises people to listen to your body, don’t ignore the signs, no matter what – get it checked out!” Conduct your research and find an excellent medical team that is supportive and answers your questions. She is living life to the fullest, being an inspiration, a voice of hope, and encouraging others.
Lanita Stewart, a mom and fifth-grade elementary school teacher noticed some changes shortly after giving birth to her son. During a visit, her OB/GYN reminder her to schedule her mammogram as she was approaching 40 years of age. Being excited and busy with a new baby, Ms. Stewart forgot to make her appointment. The following year, she scheduled her first mammogram. After the routine scan, she went back for a diagnostic scan and then a biopsy. She learned about her diagnosis after getting the results from her biopsy. She recalls the doctor being very nonchalant while delivering this life-changing information to her. She was diagnosed with Stage Zero, DCIS, and HER2-positive breast cancer. Initially told she did not need any chemotherapy. Instead, Ms. Stewart underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy, where she removed her entire left breast.
Ms. Stewart had a family history of breast cancer, including one aunt and two distant cousins. She also notes that some families do not want to discuss their health history. When family members withhold information, it makes it challenging to solve health care issues. Ms. Stewart did not think she had any symptoms considering there were no lumps. However, after much thought, she realized there were some early signs. She recalls breastfeeding her son, and she noticed her left breast was bleeding instead of producing milk. She brought this to the attention of her doctor, and he did not think this was abnormal. Next, she noticed her breasts grew larger, which she thought was normal for being pregnant and breastfeeding. The right breast went back to normal, but the left side remained unchanged.
Ms. Stewart encourages everyone to be proactive about their health. Call the doctor, do not wait for them to call you, and ask plenty of questions. She also suggests performing independent research and following the doctor’s instructions. Having faith in God, praying, staying positive, and stress-free are keys to fighting this dreadful disease.
Antwone Muhammad, hip hop artist known as “Twone Gabz,” is a proud father and a survivor. Back in 2013, a few weeks before his birthday, he noticed fluid leaking from the left side of his chest. He conducted his independent research and brought this to the attention of his doctor. The doctor suggested that they would keep an eye on the situation. In 2015 he was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and did not have any family history. His treatment included four months of chemotherapy and a mastectomy on this left side. Mr. Muhammad felt terrible but realized the chain of events made him the man he is now. “When you are battling breast cancer, the journey will impact you physically, spiritually, and emotionally.” This experience caused him to take a deeper look into his life and analyze his surroundings, current diet, and how he spends his time.
This experience motivated him to start a non-profit organization. This organization is for survivors with the support of survivors. He is currently working with the International Women’s Boxing Associate to host a fundraising event. Mr. Muhammad is an author, and the donations go towards his organization called It’s a New Day Foundation. His foundation seeks to provide holistic resources, rehab services, acupuncture, and the benefits of juicing. For more information on the organization, check out www.itsanewdayfoundation.org and social media @itsanewdayfoundation.
Mr. Muhammad suggests educating yourself about your body and how it works. He notes self-care should be your new way of life, including prayer and meditation. Mr. Muhammad is a strong advocate of creating a peaceful, relaxing environment and connecting with a higher power.
Theresa Horton is a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender. Find her on social media @passionateresources.