Can you tell us a little about how your story of survival began and how you got to where you are today?
I watched my mom, cousins, and aunts go through different types of breast cancer. Some survived and some did not. My mom was one who did not. She was so worried about her "grown" children and her husband that she kept the cancer to herself for over a year. We were so angry with her but at the end realized that her love for us was the most important thing. Even through the pain of the cancer and going through chemo and radiation therapies she worked full time. My mom was and is still my hero. Towards the end, she sat all five daughters down and apologized for all the wrong mistakes she did but she did the best she could.
When I was told that I had breast cancer, my mom came to mind and the picture of the pain and agony she went through was so unbearable, I did not want to go through the same. My friend, Lesley, was with me and we both cried. At that time my determination was to do all that I could to get rid of this cancer. That time before I made my decision as to what I would do was so surreal. My God blessed me with two little ones and I wanted to see them go through life.
If you could have sent a message to yourself from the future about what your journey to beat cancer would be like, what would you want the May now to tell the May then?
My letter to myself: (this is hard).
Just as you thought, you will get cancer but do not fear. What your mom taught you, being a survivor, will get you through it. Remember, when she told you and your sisters that you must stick together? Well, that is what you need to do. Hold on to your sisters as they will be instrumental in your survival. You will survive not only breast cancer but every hardship that is ahead. God will provide people in your life that will be there with you and for you. And last but not least, you will go through this for a reason that you will not know but trust in God. He will get you through it.
You know firsthand from the loss of your mother how devastating cancer can be. What were some of the key things that helped you prepare to fight for your life?
a. Ladies, the key thing to surviving this was the determination to do all that I could to conquer this, which were my little girls; I had to live for them. I wanted to see them flourish through life: graduation, marriage, birth of their children.
b. I did not want to suffer like my mom did. I was scared. It was way too painful for me to see my mother suffer. I did not want my little girls to see me at that way.
c. My family (including non-blood) rallied around me.
d. Dr. Litvak, my surgeon, who I started to see in 1985, after my mom was diagnosed. Every year, he would ask me if my sisters had their mammogram and reminded me to tell them to do so. He allowed me the time to grieve. Yes, I said grieve as I knew what I had to do: the removal of my breasts.
You've become such an advocate in the survivor community. Why is spreading the word so important to you?
You ask why? The little that I do is for my girls. They may not understand now, the yearly marches, my time researching, my discussions with others who've gone through this, but they will. All is for their future. A future without breast cancer! Too many of my family members and too many women have been diagnosed with this disease. No more.
How can women become more aware of their breast health and how can people get involved in the fight?
That is a good question. No matter the many walks, the many flyers, the many advertisements, it does not get real until you or someone close experiences it. Unfortunately, that is how the world operates. I was not aware of the fight until after my mother was diagnosed but yet I waited to get involved. I waited until I had it. We must stand together for every woman now and the future. This is the reason why I make it a point to have my girls fight the fight with me.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, May. You are the ultimate survivor!