From discovery to recovery: The diary of a breast cancer survivor

McLeish has been cancer free for nine years.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

OCTOBER is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in an effort to raise the awareness, Annette McLeish, a cancer survivor for over nine years, has decided to share her journey with us from the day she discovered the cancer to her recovery.

July 2001

Rough tissues were discovered during a Breast Self Examination consultation with my general practitioner and I was sent to do a mammogram and ultrasound. There was evidence of thickened tissues and a biopsy was recommended based on the fact that I was 41 years old. I was then sent by my GP to a surgeon who sent me to do a fine needle biopsy. The diagnosis came back negative.

August 2001

Off to New York on two weeks’ vacation.

September 2001

September 13: A biopsy was done on local anaesthetics and I stayed in hospital for two hours after surgery.

September 21: My doctor called for me to see him at his office. He said to take a friend or relative and breast cancer was confirmed. I remember feeling an unexplainable numbness. Everything was explained to us (my sister was with me) using drawings, etc by the doctor, who recommended mastectomy. I went straight to bed that evening after reaching home. I never knew if anyone had won a battle with this disease before, but I resolved that I was going to fight it.

September 23: I went to church and was prayed for. I told my friends about my diagnosis and they assured me that they would be praying for me.

September 24: I did a series of blood and heart tests. A feeling of doubt swept over me. I wanted someone to talk to, and so I met with the doctor who had given the diagnosis, and found out that she was a breast cancer survivor. She gave me a listening ear and this helped to allay my fears.

September 25: I met with the anaesthetist — she had asked to interview me before surgery. Following this I arranged blood donations.

September 26: I was admitted to hospital.

September 27: Surgery was done. My left breast along with six of my lymph nodes (from the armpit) were removed. My friend, sister and niece prayed outside the operating theatre during the procedure. They were the first to see me in the recovery room. I stayed in hospital for seven days. Prior to this I had not heard of the Jamaica Reach to Recovery, but my doctor asked the hospital to ask them to come and see me. A breast cancer survivor came. This gave me a great deal of reassurance. She gave me literature with the exercises that I would need to do and did a demonstration of how to do them. She also told me how to care for my hand on the side on which the mastectomy was done.

Saturday, September 29: This was the graduation dinner for my sister who was qualified as a chartered accountant. I am missing from the family picture.

I did six months of chemotherapy. I had heard many horror stories about chemotherapy from persons who had never had cancer, and in many of these stories the recipient ended up dying. I soon learnt to block the negatives from stories that were being told to me. The oncologist explained the procedure to us (my sister and I) a few days before my first chemotherapy treatment. We were free to ask questions. My question was, ‘has anyone ever died during the procedure?’ His answer to me was that he has never heard of any such case. I knew then that I would be able to go through successfully. Chemotherapy was not as bad as I was told in those horror stories.

During the period I was very keen on my diet (lots of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water). I also read lots of inspirational books and the Bible. I was early for every doctor’s appointment, did every test requested and kept a positive attitude. Apart from that, my family support was great. They were with me every step of the way, accompanying me on doctors’ appointments, praying for me, crying for me, and encouraging me when I was too weak to stand straight.

I must say that I have the greatest family in the world. No wonder I am a nine-year survivor!

Jamaica Reach to recovery, which is a support group for breast cancer survivors and their families have also been a tower of strength to me. Soon after surgery, I was told to visit the group by my doctor. I have been a member of this group since then.

Breast cancer treatment in Jamaica is very expensive when done privately. I was on a medical plan before my diagnosis, and so was able to recover most of the costs associated with my treatment. Although I still see the oncologist once per year, I am now off all medication relating to cancer (I took Tamoxifen and later Arimidex for over five years).

Remember: Early detection saves lives.

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