Surviving cancer and looking to the future

By Lois Cooper

I remember the day I was summoned to my best friend's Petworth home for a meeting with close family and friends. I thought this could not be anything good. Nervous, anxious and panicked, we all assembled in the kitchen where she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. My eyes welled up. I composed myself and promised to support her in any way she needed. This was my bosom buddy. We had shared so many good and bad secrets. Her children were living in different parts of the states and I could not trust her well-being to anyone other than myself. Not even her significant other! The fact that the American Cancer Society notes that African-American women still have higher breast cancer death rates made me feel the urgency of her medical condition.

We drove to the hospital under the cloak of darkness. We prayed and laughed on the way over. I asked the doctors, techs and anesthesiologist about the pros and cons of post and pre-operative scenarios. The good news was she was diagnosed early, which is key to survival rates and treatment.  They gave their assurance they were bringing their “A-game.” I waited patiently for her to come out of recovery. She was loopy and semi-lucid but I felt that all was well. We laughed and made jokes on the way to her home. I’m not sure she even remembers this coming off meds.

From the courage she displayed during her public announcement to her private moments alone shows me her strength and tenacity. I felt fragile compared to her resilience and resistance in the face of mortality. Here I was complaining and stressing over non-life-threatening events while she was struggling to survive. Her diagnosis helped me put things in perspective about what’s really important in life. It’s not about collecting stuff or climbing the corporate ladder but about the quality of life and your relationships with people, nature and the universe. That’s what matters.

This month we observe Breast Cancer Awareness, and according to the American Cancer Society, in 2017 there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in the United States.

Survivors sharing their story.

At my office, we recognized this observance with a panel discussion lead by survivors. Once again what stood out was the strength and courage of the women, women that I work with every day, but never knew their struggle. In the words of an old Native American proverb “Don’t judge your neighbor until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasin.” There they were standing tall, looking out, sharing the most intimate details of their struggle and survival. Telling stories about their journey and how they hoped it could enlighten and educate others.

The stories brought to mind one of my closest high school friends who loss her battle very early to breast cancer. After her death the next couple of years my friends and I did the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in her honor. We all felt like each time we crossed the finish line we had done something to help further the cause.

A race for the cure.

There were survivors, newly diagnosed patients, family and friends running the race in memorial of those who didn’t make it. With my children and my friend’s children at our sides we had gathered together in hope of a cure still unseen.

The good news is the number of survivors has increased because of early detection. As a two-time survivor at my workplace emphasized, "mammograms save lives." Hats off to all survivors and those in the struggle to survive.

Be Well & Thrive!

If you want to support breast cancer research, here's a link to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Lois Cooper

Lois is a native Washingtonian and proud parent of two daughters who recently graduated from college. She is the founder and Director of the District of Columbia African American Legacy Foundation (DCAALF), a grassroots organization that helps underserved populations.

Lois is also the creator and producer of the “The Pride and Promise of Petworth” documentary. Ms. Cooper credits Petworth with helping her to develop into the person she is today. You can email Lois with questions or suggestions on articles about social issues.

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