Sunday, July 21, 2024

My sister’s keeper – Siblings discuss their battles with breast cancer

Bertha Brooks

Bertha Brooks has more in common with her sister than most think. Both are breast cancer survivors.

Sisters Bertha Brooks and Paulette Lane, natives of Boston who are now Las Vegas residents, have more in common than most siblings. Both women are breast cancer survivors, and their dual stories of triumph are a testament to the importance of knowing one’s own body.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, Bertha attributes her 14-year survival to a personal decision.

“I woke up one morning in July 1996, and I noticed my breast was leaking,” she said. “I called my sister and told her. She immediately told me to go to the doctor, because she was the first in our family to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t listen to her. Then in October 1996, when the leaking would not stop, I decided to go.”

After several mammograms with negative results, the doctor suggested that Bertha might be pregnant. That would have been nothing short of a miracle: years before, she had undergone a hysterectomy.

“I noticed days after leaving another doctor’s appointment, and taking all types of prescribed medications, my breast started bleeding,” she recalled. “I went back to the doctor and had another biopsy — and everything still came out fine. The doctor then sent me to a breast surgeon to take a deeper look. I remember the breast surgeon saying to me that I had a unique situation, because very few African-American women have that type of leakage in their breast. So, he gave me primrose and told me to take it for a couple of weeks.”

It became routine for Bertha to go to the doctor regularly, only to grow increasingly frustrated by the lack of answers on her condition. Finally, the doctor said to her, “The only other measure is to have a mastectomy.”
She soon made a life-changing decision. “The night before meeting with my doctor, I had a message from God, and he told me I would be fine,” she revealed. “So I looked my doctor straight in the eye and told him to take it off. Yes — remove my breast.”

For confirmation, the doctor then turned to Bertha’s husband, who said, “She knows what she is talking about and I am fine with it.”

Without knowing whether she actually needed to have the procedure, Bertha underwent the mastectomy. After the surgery, the doctor sent Bertha’s breast to a pathologist. At a follow-up appointment a few days later, the doctor told Bertha, “I am glad I listened to you. I want you to know that you saved your life. You did have breast cancer, and now I am going to listen to my patients more because they know their bodies.”
Paulette tells a similar story of beating the odds.

“I was 45 years-old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “It was 1993. My cancer was also hard to find with the mammogram test, and black women usually go undetected because breast cancer develops behind the chest wall. I was between mammograms, and I had sensitivity in my breast for maybe three months. I had no leakage in my breast, and my doctor said that he thought I was fine because he didn’t feel a lump. I went back to the doctor in about two months, because it was hard for my partner to fondle my breast during times of intimacy.”

Believing that she might have a cyst, Paulette’s doctor suggested another mammogram. “My doctor came back to the examination room where I was awaiting the results from my mammogram, and he entered and told me that I was not there to treat a cyst. He said that my mammogram showed that I had tumors — and I had to see another specialist for tests to see if they are malignant.”

Following a biopsy, Paulette heard the news that changed her life. The breast specialist told her: “Your test came back positive and you do have breast cancer. The tumors are very aggressive and they are 4.5 centimeters.”

It was suggested that Paulette undergo either a lumpectomy or mastectomy. “I opted for a mastectomy because the lumpectomy can leave your breast looking deformed and most plastic surgeons prefer to perform reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy. Also, I thought if I had a mastectomy it would be all-inclusive and there would be no need for chemotherapy.”

Paulette’s cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes and she avoided having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. “The scary thing for me is that I had my mammograms for three years prior to my diagnosis — and nothing was found,” she said. “I never knew how long the tumor was growing inside of my breast. I will never get that answer because I didn’t want to pursue it. People have said that I should have sued the mammogram center because they gave me faulty readings. I said that the breast cancer was still going to be there, whether I sued or not. I wanted to stay positive and with the Lord. I couldn’t be thinking that I could make a dollar out of my situation if God is willing to give me back my life.”

In the course of discovering whether you have breast cancer, Paulette suggests that significant others may be the first to notice signs of the illness.

“It would be so wonderful to have these types of demonstrations for men who go in for their once-a-year prostate examinations,” she said. “They can be shown by their doctors how to differentiate between healthy breasts and unhealthy ones. So, when they are feeling the breast of their mates, they can tell if something is wrong. Signs of an unhealthy breast need to be known by women and men. Men should tell their mates about what they notice, and urge their wives or girlfriends to call their doctors for a full examination.”

“My cancer was also hard to find with the mammogram test, and black women usually go undetected because breast cancer develops behind the chest wall.”
– Paulette Lane

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