A Survivor’s Story
By Jane Meggitt
Every woman with breast cancer goes through that specific moment when she suspects something is wrong. For Debra Rains, it was at age 44, in 2004, while trying on outfits in a store in preparation for a vacation. Right there, in the dressing room, she felt a lump in her breast. She’d had false alarms before, because her breasts tended toward the cystic, but she knew this needed checking and soon arranged for a mammography.
Becoming a Member of the Club No One Wants to Join
There was urgency in the voice mail message from her primary care physician, telling her to follow up with a breast specialist immediately. She makes an appointment with the specialist, but the news is still unreal: “You have cancer.” While the doctor talks about the next step, Debra feels like she’s having an out-of-body experience. Her first impulse is to schedule the biopsy for another time, but the doctor is having none of it, and is ready with the syringe. Afterward, the doctor speaks of surgery, chemo and the rest, but she was going through emotional overload. Returning to work after the appointment, she tells her supervisor about her diagnosis and starts to cry.
Stage Two Cancer Treatment
Debra’s diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer, for which she underwent 18 months of treatment. “This disease is known to be very aggressive in women of color. Our tumors tend to be more aggressive. That’s another reason why our community is disproportionately affected… we have a higher mortality rate from this disease than Caucasian women,” she says. Debra had a lumpectomy after getting three professional opinions. After the lumpectomy, she went through eight sessions of chemotherapy, scheduled every two weeks. After chemo, she started daily radiation, Monday thru Friday, for six weeks. “After radiation, my oncologist informed me that a new treatment had come out that he thought would also help benefit me, and he recommended that I have the treatment for a year,” she says. However, this treatment, called Herceptin, was tough on her body and Debra was
only able to tolerate it for six months.
Enduring Chemotherapy and Hair Loss
Chemotherapy kills cancer cells and can keep the disease from recurring, but it’s a difficult journey. Some women sail through the chemo experience with relatively few side effects, but she was not so lucky. The side effects affected her nerves, resulting in burning and tingling sensations in her hands and feet. Then, of course, there was losing her hair. As a woman who had always been on top
of her game in terms of her appearance, losing hair was hard. One Sunday in the midst of her chemo treatments she went to church, wearing a hat to disguise her bald head. Everyone was happy to see her, but she was overwhelmed with fear that the hat would fall off. That night, she experienced a bit of divine intervention. A music awards show was on TV, and Melissa Etheridge, also going through chemo, was onstage rocking and completely bald. “From that moment on, I felt encouraged and em-powered to wear my bald head with pride. After seeing her, I wore it as a badge of honor. That’s what God can do,” she says.
Eleven years have passed since Debra became a breast cancer survivor. Now, she helps others on the journey as she herself was helped. Along with her family, who stayed strong and were always there for her, she relied on the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey. These days, she lives life with the understanding that she must stay relentless in being physically active. She never takes life, or time, for granted. “I know that each day is a gift. I know that each day that I am healthy and able to get out
of bed on my own and get myself to work and put in a productive day is a blessing from God,” she says.
Do Your Research and Take Care of Yourself
So what advice does Debra have for the thousands of women – and men – who will find out they have breast cancer this year? Get your tablets, laptops, mobile devices or pen and paper and do your research,” she says. Look up the doctors you plan to see, and check out at least three facilities, if possible, where you can go for care. Always get a second opinion, no matter how reputable your initial breast specialist. Be selfish as you go through the cancer journey, as you take your well-being into your own hands. Remove yourself from toxic people and situations, if you want complete healing. Cancer is a blessing as well as a curse, as it can lead to development of your spiritual growth.
Debra is conscious of her diet, exercises daily, and embraces overall wellness as a lifestyle. “Building and maintaining my spirituality is very important to my well-being also. I have a strong faith and am grateful to my heavenly Father for all that He has done for me by bringing me through a life changing experience,” she says.