I look forward to speaking somewhere during Breast Cancer Awareness Month each year. This past Sunday, I was one of two survivors who spoke at the Fellowship of Love Worship Center in Hinesville, GA. I chose the topic “Facts and Faith” and started with some general facts provided by the American Cancer Society. According to the Society, unfortunately about 43,250 women will die from breast cancer in the U.S. this year. About 2,140 men are diagnosed per year in the U.S., and 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. Every couple of minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and there are nearly 3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
I continued with facts within my own family. My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer before I was born. Her sister died of breast cancer about 25 years ago. A paternal aunt had a mastectomy in 2009. Another maternal aunt died of breast cancer in 2012. Not long after I was diagnosed in 2013, I learned of a paternal first cousin who had completed radiation in that previous year. Another paternal aunt and a maternal aunt both had mastectomies during the summer of 2014. Within the last few years, another maternal aunt had a lumpectomy and completed chemotherapy. A maternal cousin also had surgery and is a survivor. On my dad’s side, three of us in my age group were diagnosed and are survivors, and I’m the youngest. In the last 21 years, other cancers claimed the lives of one of my dad’s brothers, my paternal grandfather, my maternal grandmother, one of my dad’s sisters, and one of my mom’s sisters.
Now a few facts about me. My first marriage ended in divorce in 2009 after 20 years. I was single for several years before I married Benjamin Jenkins on Valentine’s Day 2013. Who knew that a routine mammogram a few months later in April would upend our lives? The mammogram called for a follow-up. Several months went by as I searched for a new provider whom I was satisfied with. The medical staff in the new practice used 3D mammography and discovered a spot, which turned out to be Stage 1 breast cancer. I found this out during the week of Thanksgiving. Was I scared? Of course, I was determined to keep trusting in God. No matter what, try your best to keep a positive attitude. I did that by speaking healing scriptures every single day. My faith carried me through, along with my wonderful husband, and a small circle of praying family (parents, siblings, and friends). It is vital for us to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us on our best and worst days.
We made it through the holidays and in January 2014, I had two surgeries to remove all of the cancer cells. Ben and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary, and three days later I started six weeks of radiation. Finally, I was cancer free but had to take an oral chemotherapy pill, Tamoxifen, for five years. (Read more about that in my first blog, October 2019).
While all of this was going on with me, when I asked Ben about going to the doctor for himself, he said, “I’m taking care of you.” He took care of me so well, and I was able to take care of him after his heart surgery in November of that year. He seemed to recover well from the heart valve replacement but died of a heart attack just ten days before Christmas. We had only been married for one year, ten months, and one day.
It has been a difficult journey, but God has been with me EVERY SINGLE step of the way.
After been died in December 2014, as I grieved, I still had five years of semi-annual mammograms and visits to the surgeon and the radiation oncologist.
I was relieved when I “graduated” to annual mammograms, but it also caused me a little anxiety. Facts can lead to fear. I had thoughts like, “It’s going to be a LONG time before you see the doctors again. What if cancer comes back?” I would have driven myself crazy if I had not dismissed those thoughts and continued to think positively, rely on my faith, and speak life to myself. I can remember saying things like: “I shall not die but live to declare the works of the Lord. Because of the stripes of Jesus Christ, I’m healed.” I still speak these scriptures over my life and to myself daily.
I am cancer-free, and I am intentional about doing my part to keep my body healthy. Some facts from the Centers for Disease Control to help reduce risk are at the top of my list, including maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough physical activity.
Faith without works is dead. Since I know the facts, I have been taking action to lower my risks, especially with cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes prevalent on both sides of my family. I’ve been making healthier lifestyle choices and I describe those changes in great detail in Chapter 6 of my book, Visible Difference. Over the years, people tell me I looked younger at age 50 than I did at age 40. I thank God and family genes for that!
It may be the end of October, but you can still do your part to increase the chance of finding breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat. Know how your breasts normally look and feel. Talk to your doctor right away if you notice any changes. Talk to your doctor if you have a higher risk, including a family history of cancer. Increase your healthy lifestyle choices. Remember, men and women can have breast cancer.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many individuals who are divorced. I’ve met other breast cancer survivors. I know some widows. I’ve never met anyone who experienced all three, and I definitely don’t know anyone who has survived breast cancer and the death of a spouse in the same year. I’d like to meet that person one day so we can just embrace. Survivors share a very special connection!
Finally, facts and faith work together. When we know the facts, we don’t have to just settle for them and accept them. We can make changes because when we know better, we should do better. I’m doing well. I wake up every day grateful to be alive. I had my routine mammogram this past week and the medical staff found a spot that was not on any of my previous mammograms. I am scheduled for a biopsy next month. Just hearing the b- word again was very disheartening. Yes, I’ve cried and I’m praying, and people are praying with me. I admit, after a couple of days, I had to leave the pity party. I will NOT live in fear and become paralyzed by the facts and the history of cancer in my family. I’m trying to be proactive in doing what I can while depending on God to do the rest. I find myself quoting the same Bible verses that carried me through before.
If you are battling breast cancer or any other sickness, please remember the Great Physician is always in charge. Pastor Israel Aaron Cowart’s message today at Live Oak Church was 'My Story, His Glory' (Genesis 29). In my next blog, I will share the outcome. I’m walking by faith! Call or DM any questions you may have. Let’s communicate. I’m here to encourage, inspire and motivate. I’m praying for you. For more information on my book, WHEN I WAS 40, or any of my previous blogs, visit www.charlenestevensjenkins.com.