August 15th, 2016 started out as any normal day - I woke up, got ready for the day and even had plans after work. However, before work I had an appointment for a breast ultrasound because the previous week, my doctor said she noticed “a lump” in my left breast. Of course, I was on pins and needles for a minute and then I realized “Symone, you’re 26 years old – you are good girl.” I went to the appointment and during the ultrasound I was told that something didn’t look normal however, they couldn’t be sure it was problem. Unknown to me, this simple visit would eventually alter my life.
The next few days I was anxious, worried, nervous, and scared – you name it, I felt it! While at work (yes, at work), I received a call and all I heard was, “Symone your tumor is cancerous. We need to get you back in right away.” I don’t think I ever felt my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach as I did in that moment. Before I could process the news I thought “how in the hell can you tell someone news like that over the phone.” Slowly but surely, reality began to set in.
The next hurdle, was telling my mother the news. She’s my rock, my peace of mind, my voice of reason – I couldn’t bear to hurt her again. October 2015 we lost my grandfather to lung cancer and July 2011 we lost my grandmother to uterine cancer. I just knew she couldn’t handle another hit like this. I called one of my mentors to meet me for a midday drink and asked for her help in breaking this down to my mother. During our meeting she gave me the best advice I could have received in that moment – just tell her. Although it sounds so simple, I couldn’t fathom saying these words to her. Needless to say, I put on my big girl panties and told my mother as soon as I walked into the door. It definitely took a moment for both of us to process the situation, the self-blame began and a new journey was upon both of us to conquer together.
The next 4 weeks was comprised of appointment, after appointment, after appointment. I met with my entire treatment team, radiation, mammograms, chemotherapy team, genetics testing, baseline tests and many more. After meeting my oncologist and surgeon, I told them I was giving them ONE year to figure everything out and I would do everything I needed to do within that one year. If it took longer than the year I was giving them, then we would need to go back to the drawing board. During this time, I decided that I needed to celebrate my accomplishments with close family and friends that have held me down. This was my thank you to them, we knew the road ahead would be trying but with a strong support system you can’t lose!
Due to the aggressive cancer, my chemotherapy took out my hair. My stylist was nothing but short of amazing! I was a firm believer in the creamy crack because I’ve always had thick hair and it’s easy for me to maintain. So first we cut out the relaxer, then a week later more hair started coming out and I eventually told her to just take it all off. During my check up after the first chemo cycle, my doctor noticed the lump had shrunk in size. I cried. Literally cried tears of joy. I had some self-doubt during this process because I saw what cancer did to my grandparents. The only thing that kept me going was my faith in God. I knew I could tackle anything I was determined to, however that office visit confirmed that cancer didn’t stand a chance. After 6 chemotherapy cycles, a lumpectomy, and 6 weeks of radiation I am officially CANCER FREE!
When I completed genetics testing I learned that my cancer was not passed down through any relatives and I was the chosen one LOL! However, I have a couple of tips that helped carry me through this journey:
-KEEP THE FAITH! I questioned how I could be in that situation and why? Why me? All these people in the world and he chose me to defeat this. I prayed every day for those around me, treatment team, and most importantly my strength. I couldn’t give up. It wasn’t an option for me. Truly believe that God gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers – because I BODIED CANCER!! I refused to let it take over me.
-GET YOUR ANNUAL CHECK UPS! I went for a routine exam for my annual checkup and the lump was discovered. If it wasn’t for Dr. Gerace, who knows how or when it would’ve been found. I never checked because I thought I was too young – that proved to be a lie! Complete self exams on your breasts, regardless of your age. If you feel something, please be seen by a doctor. I never experienced any symptoms and felt completely fine. Listen to your bodies! I decided to wait until my journey was almost complete before I asked what stage I was in; I was told 3B. The next step is stage 4, imagine if I hadn’t gone when I did.
-Lastly, SUPPORT THOSE THAT SUPPORT YOU. If it wasn’t for my support system I honestly don’t know if I would be here today. My Godfather beat cancer several times, I lost two grandparents to cancer, and other relatives. However, I knew I was fighting not only for myself, but for them as well. I refused to be the one that gave up. I maintained who I was during treatment because I didn’t want a pity party. I didn’t want to feel like I was burden to others or that they needed to treat me any differently. I am still Symone. This was just an unexpected bump in the road.