“Breast cancer did not get the best of me”

This is the last week in this month of October. Therefore, it is the last week of breast cancer awareness month. If you’ve been following my blog, I’ve provided statistics and vital information for breast cancer. You learned how to detect it and things that could possibly help to reduce the chances of getting it. One week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my seven siblings and gave their perspective along with mine on how it was as a child to witness a parent go through the breast cancer process. For this last week, I wanted to dedicate it to my mother. My mom is a 15 year survivor of breast cancer. There was no better person than her to interview to end this breast cancer series.

My mother’s name is Zell Long. She is one that admired by many, and I count it a blessing for her to be to be the one God gave me as a mother. She has eight living children (miscarried one). If you know my mother, you know she is a woman of faith. She is a woman that can get a pray through to God. One my fraternal uncles jokingly calls her Jesus’s sister. He said if you ever need to get in touch with God all you have to do is call Zell. My siblings and I often joke about when we were sick growing up. Where as most kids get sick and miss school, it didn’t happen that way for you. Not JB and Homerzell’s kids!!!! If one of us woke up not feeling well, we’d go into our parents room and let them know. Of course, we’d hope that we’d be able to miss school and stay at Muh’s house for the entire day. No such luck!!!! Our mother would have us to get her bottle of prayer oil. She’d lay her hands on our heads and ask God to heal us. Within a matter of minutes, God would touch bodies, our sickness would be gone, and we’d be getting dressed for school. Such a bummer for kids that wanted to miss. It was a blessing for her. This same faith, her prayer, and her strength in God is what helped mom as she battled breast cancer.

My mother was born January 9, 1952. My mother is the baby of eighteen children. There were nine girls and nine boys born from Marsie and Gillie Jones. Out of the nine girls, three at the time had been diagnosed with breast cancer. (As of 2020, the last five girls born of Marsie and Gillie were diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my aunts succumbed to breast cancer in April of this year.) Considering her family’s history, my mom was always faithful in getting her yearly mammograms. I asked her did she ever think she would have breast cancer. She said it was always a possibility in the back of her mind that she might later end up getting it. The reason being was this. When she had mammograms, she would often have to go back because there would be an abnormality or irregularity on the mammogram. She’d have to go back to get a second mammogram. With all the irregular mammograms, the actual time of hearing the news of you have breast cancer wasn’t a surprise. Of course, it was not something she wanted, but the potential of having it was always there.

It was not a monthly self breast examination on how my mom discovered, but it was through the mammogram that the breast cancer was discovered. My mom could not remember the exact month she was diagnosed. She said it was somewhere between October-December 2005. This is why it is very important for women to get their annual mammogram and do the monthly breast self examinations. At the age of 40, doctors suggest this to be the age for women to start having yearly mammograms http://www.cancer.org. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should speak to your doctor. You might be eligible to have one sooner. My first mammogram was at the age of 35 (due to my family’s history).

After the mammogram, mom’s faith kicked in. She said she told God that she has to believe Him. The mammogram and biopsy were showing different things. She said the mammogram showed the thickening in the one spot. Remember for her, this was not unusual, but biopsy showed positive for cancer and malignant. The decision had to be made to have the mastectomy (having the cancerous breast removed). She was fine having the mastectomy because it meant that the cancer would be removed from her body.

Going from it being a possibility to actually having breast cancer, mom had several thoughts running through her mind. What is going to happen next? Would it be a death sentence? Would this be the way my life ends, from cancer? God, I’m believing You for a miracle, but are You going to heal me on earth? If I die, what is going to happen to my children? If I have the mastectomy, what would my spouse at the time think of me because I’ll only have one breast?

Radiation or chemotherapy was never an option for her. The only option was having the mastectomy to remove the cancer. Mom did not have reconstructive breast surgery (to replace the breast that was removed). I have always wondered why she didn’t. She laughed, and she said she would never forget it. She said Dr. Buddy Williams said, “Zell, I can’t perform a reconstruction surgery. Your breast are too large, and I can’t make it the same size as the other.” I inquired and asked why didn’t she go smaller. Mom said it was not worth it. She said that it would require plastic surgery, and she did not want to endure having to go through surgery again. With the mastectomy, it was enough. She was very thankful the cancer did not spread by going into her glands and lymph nodes. Therefore, she was not worried about reconstruction. Instead, she would focus on her recovery by emptying the drainage tubes, enduring the pain, and allowing her body to heal. All of it was an indication of her body getting better.

I asked mom what were her thoughts after reading last week’s article from the view of her eight children while she went through her healing. Mom stated that she wasn’t aware how each of us felt, and it was an eye opener for her. She didn’t realize how it affected all eight of us differently. She personally told the oldest three (Juan, myself, and Jason) and thought that by our reactions that it would be easier to tell the younger ones. She allowed our father to tell the other five younger siblings. She wishes that she sat down with each us individually or gathered all eight of us at once to talk about it.

Lastly, I asked mom what advice would she give to a woman or man that might be dealing with breast cancer at this very moment. She said that having breast cancer changed her perspective on life. It made her realize her vulnerability. Here are her suggestions to the ones that might be dealing with it today. 1. Live life to the fullest every day. 2. Don’t have any regrets. Do what you want to do. 3. Don’t live a life of I wish I woulda, coulda, or shoulda because when you are dealing with cancer, there is no certainty. 4. Take it day by day. Some days, you’ll feel good. Some days, you won’t. Put your foot in front of the other. 5. Lastly, Have faith and pray.

“It’s ok to be a cheetah in the midst of snow leopards”

Today, I am honoring my grandmother. October 18th is her birthday. She would have been 91 years old. I wish we were together celebrating instead of me writing in remembrance of her. As long as I live, I promise to never let her name and legacy fade from my mind. I will always honor her and do my best to do things that would make her proud.

For those that do not know, my grandmother’s name is Elnora Townsend Long. She is my fraternal grandmother. My grandmother was one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever meet. She had the best personality, and she never met a stranger. 😊 She would talk and talk if you got her on the phone or if you went by to visit. My grandmother was nurturing. She always made sure you were fed if you came to see her. My grandmother was loving. She always made you felt welcome in her presence. She loved her family and loved being surrounded by my late grandfather, her children, grandchildren, and friends. My mom often calls me lil Elnora. She says I never meet a stranger and love to talk. I count it a privilege to have characteristics similar to my grandmother. Our characteristics make us who we are. We should never be ashamed of how we are programmed. My grandmother was never ashamed of who she was or ashamed of her walk with Christ.

The last years of her life, grandma lived in Reed house in the Traceway retirement home. When I’d go visit, she’d tell me what she’d told her housemates that week as they sat around the dinner table. She’d preach to them about something they’d done or said that she felt was wrong. I’d laugh. I’d say grandma. You can’t tell those people that. Quickly, she’d correct me. Baby, the Bible says….. She’d proceed to tell me what the Bible said. If you didn’t want to hear the truth or hear the word of God, you’d better not be around her. If you were near, she was gonna let you know.

I need to digress for a moment. This is a off topic, but it has a point in the end. In 2012, Tupelo had a tornado that devastated the city. BancorpSouth took part in the cleanup efforts. I’d asked my children to come assist. When they arrived, I introduced them to some people in upper management. I was my loud, typical self. The next day, my boss, at the time, came to me and said my cleanup efforts were no longer needed. Someone told my boss to tell me I was loud the day before (when I’d the introduction) and was an embarrassment to the bank. I told my boss that I was still going to come but would be reserved. Later that day, one of the upper management executive pulled me to the side. He asked what was wrong because I was not my normal self. I let him know what was said. He informed me I was not an embarrassment. If he had a problem with me, he’d let me know himself. He said it’s ok that my energy level is some days a 10, and theirs were a 5/6. Some days he was a 12, but it makes us who we are.

I’ve come to the realization that not everyone will like me. Every house mate my grandma had probably didn’t always like her. When they got tired of hearing her preach, they’d go to their room. It didn’t stop her from being who she was. It didn’t matter if they didn’t like it. She was not going to stop being Elnora. I know if my grandmother was still alive today that she’d still be doing everything she loved. She would still be true to herself, and she’d still be preaching to her housemates. She’d still make a call to tell you hello. She’d still ask how’s how’s those kids of yours doing. She’d still be whispering trying to tell me something she didn’t have any business telling me. She’d still be sitting in her wheelchair looking gorgeous with her jewelry on her neck, fingers, and wrist. She’d still be everything God ordained her to be.

My grandmother was special and unique in her own way. I absolutely loved that about her. I urge each of you to love yourselves and be true to what makes you you. It’s ok if you’re quiet or shy. It’s ok if you’re skinny or one with curves. It’s ok if you’re short or tall. It’s ok if you love spreading the gospel of Christ. It’s ok if you’re loud, like me, when you enter a room. Embrace who you are and live in it. It’s what makes you unique and special. Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. It’s ok to be the cheetah in the room of snow leopards. ☺️

Have you ever thought about breast cancer from the view of a child?

October is breast cancer awareness month. Last week, I wrote about becoming aware of your body. The more you know your body; the better you will be at determining when something irregular has tried to invade in. I listed different statistics on breast cancer (deaths, diagnosis, survival rates). I provided the link on how a person can learn to do monthly breast examinations. We learned that breast cancer is not only an issue for women. Men can be diagnosed as well.

With all that being said, most people wonder about the effects of cancer of the person that is diagnosed. My mom doesn’t remember exactly what month she was diagnosed. It was either October or November 2005. This week, I’m not focusing on her. Instead, I wanted to take a different twist. I wanted to write from the view of breast cancer from the perspective of the child and how it affects them.

My parents have eight children. Even as of this day, this is something that we have never sat and collectively spoken about our feelings on how we felt when our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I enjoyed calling them, interviewing them, and hearing their views about our mom as she went through her healing process. I asked all of my siblings the same questions. Although, all had the same questions, every answer was different. I wasn’t surprised because we all have different personalities. Here are the questions that each was asked and answered. 1. Do you remember our parents telling us that mom had cancer? 2. How did you feel when you received the news? 3. Were you worried that she would not survive? 4. When you heard she was not having reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy, how did that make you feel? 5. Is there any advice you would like to give to a child that might be going through the same thing with his/her parent?

I’ll go in the order that we were born. The oldest of the eight is Juan. He was at home in Florida. He said that he heard other stories of people having breast cancer, but he never thought it would hit his home. Immediately, his first thought was death. He was worried if our mother would survive and pull through. He knew of women that had survived, and those that did not. Juan was scared for her. She is the matriarch, the glue of the family, and he did not want to think about her not being around. He was upset with life and questioned God. He said that is wasn’t fair. He said his mom is the nicest person on Earth. She would give someone that last. Why her? Why did she have to receive cancer? As time went on, he began to feel better. He cried, prayed, and leaned on his wife for support. He would talk to mom, and she would encourage him. I laughed and smiled when he told me this. Juan is such a momma’s boy. I could imagine him calling her crying and being worried. Here she is dealing with breast cancer and all the things that come along with it, but she never stopped being a mother. She took the time to comfort her son when he was concerned about her. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he worried if she would feel whole and still feel pretty since she did not do the surgery. He was concerned, but he never was brave enough to ask her about it. Lastly, he said it is very tough, but it important not to treat the person as a victim. Love and support your loved ones.

I am the second born child. I remember the moment that my parents called me. At the time, I was still married. I was in my bedroom, and I began to cry on the phone. My ex husband asked what was wrong because I couldn’t stop crying even after I hung up the call. I told him that my parents had just informed me that my mom had breast cancer. She was going to have surgery in a few weeks to remove the breast with the cancer. I was afraid that my mom would die. I was worried that I might develop breast cancer. I went and had the genetic testing done. My test came back negative. I was not a carrier of the trait. I remember the day my mom had surgery. All of my brothers lived out of state. Jenci, Shayla, my dad, and myself were at the hospital. I remember waiting for hours until the surgery was over. I remember looking out of the window crying and my mind wreaking havoc. It seemed like it was the longest day of my life. I remember her having a drainage bag on the spot where the breast was and having to empty it every few hours. I remember her being in pain for long periods of time. I was thankful that she did not have to go through chemo or radiation, but her having her breast and lymph nodes removed was still painful to see her go through. As Juan, I never asked her why she chose not to have reconstructive surgery. I was just thinking if it were me that I would want me a new pair of breast. In her mind, she might not have wanted to go through another surgery. As a family, we did not come together and speak about it at one time. I would recommend children to speak to the parent that is diagnosed to see how he/she feels. I think it is important to understand any concerns that might need to be address.

Jason said that mom might not know when she was diagnosed, but he knows exactly when we were told. He said it was December 2005, and he was about to go on stage for his church’s Christmas program. He had to take a moment to prepare himself before going on stage to perform. Jason said he was quite shocked when receiving the news. He said that it wasn’t something that he had time to prepare for. There was no previous conversation that lead to that day such as your mom thinks she might have breast cancer. She is going to get some test done to see what is going on. On this day, it was BAM and in his face. Instead, it was your mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she has to have surgery. Jason said he started his day with expectations of going about it being a normal day, but his day took a turn for the worse. He did feel that mom should have had the reconstructive surgery. He feels that it could have been rectified with surgery, but he said at the end of the day it was her choice. He would always support her decision whether he agreed with it or not. Jason’s advice is to have serious talks with your children and spouse about your family’s health history. A person should not wait until bad news is received to discuss these things. That way, no one is blindsided when health scares comes along, and a person can take preventive measures to help himself/herself. Lastly, whatever choice a person decides for their health is their choice, and the person has to deal with the deal he/she has made.

If you know Maury, he is the most nonchalant of the eight children. Vaguely, he remembered the moment. He said said he was not concerned nor did he have a fear of her dying. He never felt that her life was in danger. In his mind, she was going to be alright. He did not care about her not having reconstructive surgery after the mastectomy. He was glad she was alive. His suggestion is to enjoy the moments with the love one, do not add any extra stress to the person, support the person, and strengthen them.

For Josh, it was a feeling of helplessness. He was living in Florida. He wanted to be home in Mississippi to be with mom. He wanted to know what he could do to fix it or to help her. When we were younger, our mother had a miscarriage. She lost a lot of blood and had to resuscitated. When Josh received the dreaded call, it was a traumatic moment for him. His mind went back to that day of her having the miscarriage. He wondered would cancer be the thing that takes her out. He prayed and told God that cancer is like a common cold to Him. He prayed and asked God to please heal his mom. As far as the reconstructive surgery, he was worried about her mental health. Would she look in the mirror and still think she was beautiful? He told her to do what is best for her. If removing the breast will help her have longevity, he told her to remove it and proudly wear her prosthesis. His advice is that it is ok to feel every emotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s anger, sadness, frustration, or even despair. He would suggest seeking out professional help and talk to someone about how you feel about a parent having cancer.

Shayla was in college when she received the call. She was heartbroken, scared, concerned, and worried. Mom was the first person that she knew that had breast cancer. Mom is Superwoman in her eyes. How could Superwoman become sick? She was worried about her passing away because of the things she’s read about breast cancer. She was worried about what her outcome might be. She didn’t want people to look at mom differently for having one breast because she did not have the reconstructive surgery. Shayla’s suggestion to any child is to make sure you do not take it for granted. Self awareness is important. Breast cancer is real. Learn all the information you can and do all the things you need to do.

Jenci’s recollection was that we did not have a long tedious time to prepare ourselves. When we were told, mom was already diagnosed and knew what was going on. She was in college. Her initial reaction was concern for mom’s wellbeing. Even though she was in college, she did not personally know much about breast cancer. She did not want to see her go through what society had portrayed on television. With mom being a woman of faith, she had a community of people praying and believing for a healing. Jenci said that witnessing mom’s faith being strengthened helped strengthen her faith. She didn’t care about her not having reconstructive surgery. She knew momma had to have the breast remove in order to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. She wanted to make sure that mom self-esteem was ok. Her advice is to support both parents. Let them know you are their. Their journey is individual, but they need to know they are not alone. Lastly, ask questions. Be aware of your family history, and love can conquer anything.

With all the interviews, I, personally, feel that Zierra’s recollection was the most traumatic. When I asked Zierra the question about how she remembered being told, she stated that she was never actually told. She did not know of momma having breast cancer. She did not know momma had a mastectomy. She discovered momma had a mastectomy when she stumbled upon momma undressing in the bathroom one morning. The 10 year old child began to cry and wonder what happened. After mom was able to get Zierra to calm down, momma explained to her what happened. She informed her she had breast cancer. The only way to save herself and to continue to live was by removing the infected area. Zierra said she feared the worst. She said momma withheld the information of her having breast cancer. In her mind, she wondered what other information she might be keeping from here. She felt on edge, but mom reassured her that she would be ok. Her advice is to prepare for the worst but pray for the best. We can not control the situations. God is in control. Everything happens for a reason. We should go with the flow of life. Accept the things that we can change. Do not allow temporary emotions affect the time of your life ahead.

To sum it up, my suggestion is to talk to your children. It does not matter how hold your children might be. Let them know what is going on. As you read, we were all different ages with different things going on in our lives. Yet, each child was affected differently. Do not wait until the last minute to discuss the treatment plan. You might think your child can not handle it. It is better to know something than being dropped with a bombshell. Do not wait to discuss your family’s history with certain illnesses. As said I said last week and will say it again, the more you know about your body and health; the better you will be. Lastly, my suggestion is to continue to love one another and be a support throughout the entire process. Be blessed and in good health.

When is the last time you checked your breast?

The month of October is recognized as breast cancer awareness month. I’m sure many of you are like me. You, personally, know someone who is a survivor of breast cancer or who has succumbed to breast cancer. For me, the evils of breast cancer has touched my mom and aunts. Some are survivors, and sadly, I’ve lost loved ones to this disease. This month, I dedicate my blog to all those who are currently undergoing treatment, those who are survivors and those who have left us here on earth.

Breast cancer is not a disease that only affects women. Men can be diagnosed as well. According to http://www.cancer.net, there will be 325,010 women and 2,620 men diagnosed in 2020. There is an estimation of 42,690 deaths (women and men). After lung cancer, breast cancer is the largest cause of death of women. This is why early detection is important.

Each month, women are advised to do monthly breast examinations to detect any abnormalities. The suggested time is a few days after her monthly menstruation begins. If you aren’t sure how you should perform your breast examinations, go to http://www.spottingcancer.org. The website provides step by step instructions on how to do the breast examinations. The reason the examinations are important is because you can detect when you feel a lump that was not there the month before. Get to know your body. The more you know your body, the better it is.

Here are a few statistics on breast cancer. In the history of breast cancer, there have been 3.5 million women diagnosed as of January 2020. African American women, under the age of 45, are more likely to receive a diagnosis than Caucasian women. Statistics have shown African American women are also more likely to die from the disease. The chances of being diagnosed doubles if there is a mother, sister, or daughter that was previously diagnosed. For the 85% that are diagnosed with no family history, it occurs due to genetic mutation (http://www.breastcancer.org).

There are a few things you can do to help decrease your chances of getting breast cancer. Doctors advise each individual to be aware of her/his body mass index. Being overweight increases chances of contracting the disease. One should try to maintain a healthy diet. It is recommended exercise for at least 45-60 minutes several times a week. Other suggestions are the reduction of alcohol and smoking consumption.

Unfortunately, there is no 100% way to totally control the prevention of being diagnosed with breast cancer. You might do everything single thing the doctor says and still be diagnosed. You can receive your annual mammograms as doctors suggest and still be diagnosed. Sadly, there will be some deaths. These losses hurt. Death leaves a void in the lives of family that are left on earth. All they have are memories of their loves ones.

Thankfully, a woman or man that receive those dreaded words “you have breast cancer” does not mean your life will end in death. As statistics have shown, the chances of survival are much higher than it is to die from the disease. Technology and research are better than it was years ago. There is hope. If you are reading this today, you might have cancer or know someone that is going through chemo at this moment. Be encouraged. Surround yourself with family and friends that will support you. Don’t give up. Keeping fighting and tell cancer to that “it” can’t have your life. Let cancer know you will win. Keep the faith and never give up.

“Saying goodbye to what once had a hold on me”

If I were to take a poll and ask what does Labor Day mean to you, I am sure most would say it’s a United States federal holiday and probably excitement if lucky enough to have the day off from work. Some might say it is a day of appreciation for having employment or a day of recognition for all laborers in the workforce. If one were to ask me what does Labor Day mean to you Carman, my will response will not be any of the above. My response goes like this.

Labor Day, September 3, 2012, my life changed forever. One that I will never forget. It is a day for years that carried hurt, anger, depression, embarrassment, and misery in my mind, heart, body, and soul. Initially, it is a day that I wished I could erase from the calendar and never see it again.

You are probably wondering how can Labor Day, a day that is to celebrate having a job, evoke those emotions in me. What is it about Labor Day that would cause this to you? What in the world happened? Here’s the answer. On September 3, 2012, I endured what I call the “walk of shame.”

Let me rewind the clock. I was going through a divorce and seeking joint custody from the courts. If children are over the age of twelve, the children can decide which parent they want to live. The oldest children made the choice to live with their father. I was more of the disciplinarian, and he was the cooler and more laid back parent. If I was child, I probably would have done the same. Because of their selection, he would maintain ownership of the home, and I was informed by my attorney that I would soon have to leave. I just didn’t know when it would be. Believe me when I say, I wasn’t mentally prepared for the day when it arrived. I don’t think there was a way to prepare my mind for it.

August 31, 2012, I received a call from my attorney. He said it is time for you to vacate the house. Immediately, I began to cry and question God. I said this can’t be real. I felt I had been hit by a train, this was a bad dream, and I would awake at any moment. Unfortunately, it was real. He said you have to leave today. I said no. Monday is the holiday. I’m off work. It will give me time to pack my things, and I’ll leave. He agreed.

Monday came, and it was time for me to leave. I dread leaving all day long. I put it off as long as I could. I did not want to go. Who would? This was my home. It was a home that my three children lived. It was a home that my name was still legally on it. Even though I said I needed extra time to pack, I could never put my mind to actually do it. That Monday, I decided all I wanted was my clothes, my books, and my photo albums. He could have everything else.

That dreadful day, some family members were staying the night. Therefore, the house was full. In my mind , the moment I was leaving felt like a portion out of a script from a movie scene. All eyes were on me. As everyone watched, I walked down the stairs with my things in my hands and my head hung low. I loaded up my vehicle and drove to my parents home. Graciously and thankfully, my parents allowed me to move back in with them. When I left their house in June 1999, I never expected I would have to return years later. I felt defeated and broken inside.

Fast forward two years later, one of my best friends was having a tattoo party at her home. It was the weekend of Labor Day. She invited me to come and get a tattoo. I always wanted one, but I was scared to get one. I was raised strict Pentecostal, and one just didn’t get tattoos. I debated in my mind for hours. I came to the conclusion that I would get one and just go for it. I selected an image that has a sun and moon facing each other surrounded by stars. It symbolizes that even though there’ll be dark days (moon) light will soon follow (sun). For me, that was a perfect symbolic image for this thing called life.

For me, that was my first step in taking my life back. Taking my life back wasn’t easy nor was it something that would happen over night. I would have flashbacks of the “walk of shame” each year when Labor Day came. I became depressed all over again. One day, I told myself that I couldn’t keep going through this cycle. This isn’t good, and I needed to snap out of it . It took years for me to not sink to a low place when Labor Day came around. Eventually, I did overcome by my faith in God, praying, seeing a mental therapist, and support from family and close friends.

I am glad that I can humbly say Labor Day no longer has a hold on me. I can celebrate as others. I can be happy that I work at a bank and be one of those people excited about having a federal holiday off. I can ask my friends who’s grilling because I want some BBQ. I can relax, enjoy life and smile.

Here’s to saying goodbye to the “walk of shame” on Labor Day (the thing, the day that once had me bound). The day that once held me hostage in my heart, mind, body, and soul. The day that once took my breath away. The day that changed my life forever. The day that will no longer have a hold on me. Here’s to saying hello to Loving all of Carman: mind, heart, body and soul.