In women under 45, breast cancer is more common in black women than in white women. Black women in the US are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bridgette Johnson shares her experiences in fighting stage 4 breast cancer and her advice to all women to “listen to their bodies”.
I was 35 when I first felt a lump in my chest. I remember seeing constant signs in the doctor’s office that you should have monthly breast exams. One day I felt something that I hadn’t felt before.
I went to a doctor who, after examining my chest, said, “You have large breasts; it’s probably just dense tissue. You are young. Don’t worry about that. ”
Maybe me bin be paranoid, I thought.
As I continued my monthly breast exams, I noticed that everything I felt in my chest was growing. I went to a second doctor who said the same thing to me: “You have large breasts; it’s probably just dense tissue. You are young. Don’t worry about that. ”
Now I knew I was paranoid. There is nothing wrong with me
Over time, I noticed that this thing seemed to get even bigger.
I went to a third doctor who gave me a breast exam and said, “There may be something there when it can only be a cyst.”
This time I asked for a mammogram.
The doctor ordered the test and the technician came into the room and said to me, “We think we’re seeing something, but it’s probably just a stain on the machine. Do not worry. You are young Come back when you are 40. ”
Wow, I have to be very paranoid. There is nothing wrong with me
Months later, I got chest pain while I was sleeping. I went back to the third doctor and asked if I could get another mammogram. The doctor ordered the test again. This time I got a 3D mammogram and two days later my phone rang.
The voice on the other end said, “I’m sorry to tell you, but you have breast cancer.”
There was no paranoia. something war not correct.
I was 37 and devastated. With my family and friends gathered behind me, I made a brave face and began my journey. I quickly found a nursing team at the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) in Arlington, Virginia. My first visits to the doctor’s office were hazy as the doctor explained the surgical process. Based on the appearance of the tumor, the doctor told me it was a stage 2 diagnosis.
The surgeon had to move quickly because my lump was quite large. In September 2012 I was operated on for a mastectomy. While recovering, I learned that my cancer had spread from my breast to my lymph nodes and my diagnosis was raised to stage 3. I had to undergo an aggressive treatment plan that included several months of chemotherapy and radiation.
The whole process was still confusing to me. I thought I was quite healthy; I went to the gym almost every day.
I started asking myself, “Why me?” But later I decided to turn the question around and started asking, “Why not me?” This was the card I was dealt; now it was my turn to fight.
In 2013 I finished my treatments. I was told that the cancer was gone and that I could get on with my life. I never forgot my trip.
I hosted a panel discussion with inspiring stories from fellow survivors and carers at VHC. I was invited to share my story with a group of women in a church and I spoke at various breast cancer awareness events. My goal was to encourage women to listen to their bodies and, if something didn’t seem right, request a mammogram.
When I reached my 5th anniversary of being cancer free, I was hosting a big party during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was so excited that I made it to this milestone. Little did I know the excitement was about to change.
It was summer 2019 when I started feeling pain in my leg. At first I thought it was workout pain or maybe I pulled a muscle. I decided to see a doctor who said everything was fine. “Just take some prescription ibuprofen. You should feel better in about a week. ”So I did just that and continued my normal routine.
However, I also got some swelling in my lower leg. I went to another doctor who recommended physical therapy.
The therapist noticed the swelling and that the skin was shiny and recommended that I take an X-ray, which I was told looked good and could continue with therapy.
About a week later I decided to go to a local restaurant and then go home. After dinner, I went down one block and called a friend who was at the restaurant and told her to come out and help me. I could not move. She called an Uber so I could come home. The driver helped me out of the car and some people standing in front of the building helped me get into my apartment.
A few days later, I hobbled into the bathroom to put rolls in my hair. After I put the last roller on, I fell and it felt like a crack in my leg.
I was able to call 911 – the phone was with me in the bathroom – and when I got to the emergency room they did a CT scan of my leg. A doctor showed me the x-ray and I saw a large globe pop out of my thigh bone.
I asked him: “Is that cancer?” And he replied, “Yes, it is.”
I was taken to another hospital to have part of my thigh bone removed and a rod inserted. Before the operation, I was scanned again, this time on my entire body. When the results came back I was told that cancer cells were also in my spine and skull and that the cancer was stage 4. I later learned that it was breast cancer cells that had migrated to these parts of my body.
I now had metastatic breast cancer.
Despite this devastating news, I still held onto my faith in God and have not lost hope. I’m back at VHC for treatments. I’m also back in physical therapy, learning to walk again and gain strength in my leg. After a lot of hard work, I switched from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. I hope to be able to walk alone again one day without help.
After a recent scan, I learned that there were no active cancer cells that would put me in remission. Even though I’ve heard this wonderful news, I know I can’t give up. I need to stay in prayer, continue visits to the doctor, exercise, and eat right in order to stay healthy and, hopefully, remain in this state.
I fight the good fight and trust God every step of the way.
If there is any advice I can give you from my trip it is:
1. Listen to your body … If something doesn’t feel right, see a doctor right away.
2. If you are not comfortable with your diagnosis, always get a second opinion. I would even recommend getting a third or fourth opinion until you are comfortable with the information you are given.
3. You are your best lawyer. If in doubt, ask for an exam.
4. Find a good and positive support network. Smiling faces and calm spirits will surely help make your trip a lot smoother.
5. You can do this – even on your own. I’ve become my own caregiver since the pandemic, and when people can help me, I’m grateful. I put on my brave face again and gathered the strength to prepare my own meals, go to medical appointments, take short walks to exercise, and so on. Situations can change in life, but please know that you can. Even alone. Never give up. Keep fighting the good fight.
6. Most importantly, trust in God’s love and never lose faith or hope!
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