Stories of Hope »

2014 Calendar

2014 Calendar

Our 2014 Calendar

Survivor Stories

Delandra "Dee Dee" Grey, January View My Story »

Delandra

My name is DeLandra and my journey began the day I was giving myself a self-examination. I have always done breast self-exams because of my extensive family history of breast cancer. I found a lump the last week of September 2012 and immediately scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist, Dr. Lynch. I had been getting mammograms and ultrasounds yearly since the age of 35 without any abnormalities.

On October 9, 2012 I had a biopsy performed on my right breast that came back positive for Stage 2 invasive breast cancer. I must admit that just hearing the words “cancer” and “surgery” from Dr. Zuckerman, it felt as if my heart stopped beating. I am a person of disguise when it comes to expressing my emotions publicly, fearing that it would give me the appearance of being weak; so as poised as possible, I listened to my doctor as he told me the steps that I would be taking from that day forward.

I had surgery December 19th on my 43rd birthday. This date to me was a chance at life again. I opted for a  double mastectomy with reconstruction by Dr. Fusi.  The surgery went well with the removal of a lymph node also in the process. I knew it would be successful because my only sister, Tamja, who is six years older than I, underwent the same procedure by the same doctors for Stage 1 non-invasive breast cancer of the right breast. Her surgery was the day before her birthday in 2006, also at the age of 43. Coincidence or not, I am following the path of my older sister. Be that as it may, the Grey girls are strong and we will survive.

I then focused on my world that consisted of my daughter named Faith. At the age of four, she is my strength and I knew I had to overcome this for her well-being. The love for a child and the love from a child of God can get you through any obstacles placed before you.

My fight continues with treatments that I will undergo every month for five years, enduring all the side effects
and still remaining thankful. I am a very private person but I know sometimes hearing the story of someone else
can possibly help another rise above something that they may be combatting in life. Everything happens for
a reason even reasons we may not know, so I thank God for bringing me thus far.

My family is my rock, especially my sister who always loves to give me counsel which was truly needed and
continues to be needed; my mother and father for their love and comfort at each and every appointment then and now; as for my daughter’s father, Courtney, words could never express how much I truly appreciate the care that he gave me, and continues to give me, from day one of this battle; and finally, my Wynter family — my aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, church family (St. Mathews), co-workers (Comcast), and Prince Hall Masonic Family. I am grateful for my aunt Loretta who supported me with weekly, sometimes daily, cards that were heartfelt and for Mrs. Wynter, my daughter’s Grandmother, also a survivor, for the calls that were always uplifting. I truly thank them all for the words of encouragement and the prayers that they continue to bestow upon me.

Matthew 17:20
King James Version (KJV)
And Jesus said unto them, “Because of your unbelief;
for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of
mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, ‘Remove
hence to yonder place,’ and it shall remove. And
nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

Tiffany Miller, February View My Story »

Tiffany Miller

My Name is Tiffany Miller and I am a survivor. My second birthday is September 29, 2011 — the day I
was cleared of breast cancer.

My journey started in May 2010 when I went in for my annual mammogram. Afterwards, however, I received a letter in the mail to make an appointment to repeat the procedure.

On June 7, 2010, I went in for my second mammogram. On June 22, 2010, I received another notice saying that the results of my breast examine indicated an abnormal area in my left breast that needed to be looked at in further detail.

In July 2010, I went in for a core biopsy at Yale Temple Medical. My husband (fiancée then) couldn’t come in the back with me for support. I was both scared and nervous at the same time.

On August 17, 2010, my husband-to-be and I went in to learn the results from my core biopsy. That’s when we found out that I had Stage Zero breast cancer (DCIS).

The hardest thing I had to do was to tell my daughters, parents, family and friends that I had cancer. I felt like I had to be strong for my daughters and that meant I couldn’t show them that I was scared. So I put up a strong front and went into denial. I continued planning my wedding and honeymoon like I had never gotten the news about having cancer.

On Sept 14, 2010, nine days after my wedding, I went in for surgery (lumpectomy) and was back to work two days later.

On December 21, 2010, I started eight weeks of radiation. I continued to work throughout the entire
time of my treatment. I continue to see my surgeon regularly and have follow-up mammograms every six months. I cannot STRESS the importance of getting your annual mammogram. Had it not been for my
mammogram, my cancer could have continued to grow because I did not have a lump that you could
feel.

It’s only through the grace of God and a good support team that I was able to function. My
support team consisted of my husband, daughters, parents, family and friends. It is because of their
support that I was able to continue on like nothing major was happening in my life.

Clara Lawhorn, March View My Story »

Clara Lawhorn

My name is Clara Lawhorn and I was born in McBee, South Carolina. In 1952, I migrated north and moved to New Haven, Connecticut. I matriculated at Hillhouse High School and graduated in 1953. I was hired by Southern New England Telephone Company as an operator and eventually worked my way up to Assistant Manager of Operator Services. I retired from the company in 1987 after a 40-year career.

I received my Associates Degree from Albertus Magnus College in 1986. I obtained my state real estate license in 1989, and for a time was a licensed real estate broker for Coldwell Banker. I have a strong faith in God and have been an active member of St. Martin de Porres Church since the mid 1950s. I have always been a very active, independent and vibrant person, giving my time and talents to my community and to my church. So you can understand why in late August/ early September 2006, I got the shock of my life when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

My journey began early one morning when, while talking on the phone with a friend, I began to cough and could not catch my breath. I ran downstairs to open the front door to get fresh air. Although I felt better, I was still very unnerved by the episode. Because I know my body, I knew that something wasn’t right. I immediately went to see my primary care physician. He had been treating me for a long time for a thyroid condition and a small goiter commonly associated with this condition. He would always check to make sure that it was not growing and blocking my air passage. He sent me for a PET scan, which revealed that the lymph nodes under my right armpit were enlarged. The lymph nodes were removed and a biopsy was performed. The results from the biopsy confirmed that I had cancer.

The weird thing is there was no evidence of a primary site — that is, a lump or source of the cancer anywhere in my body. My annual mammogram in April 2006 was negative and an ultrasound performed on my breasts after the PET scan did not reveal any evidence of a tumor. So we weren’t 100% positive that the cancer was breast cancer. I was referred to an oncologist who reviewed the PET scan and biopsy pathology reports. After consulting with her colleagues, I received confirmation that I, indeed, had Stage 3 breast cancer.

Because of the way my cancer manifested itself, i.e. no evidence of a lump or primary site, my daughter insisted that I have a second opinion at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. My local oncologist scheduled an appointment with Diana Lake, M.D., one of Sloan Kettering’s top medical oncologists. So, after my first chemo treatment in October 2006, my husband, daughter and I drove to New York City. When I arrived at Sloan and met Dr. Lake, I was also proud to see that she was African American. Dr. Lake had already looked at my pathology slides and had read all of the reports, including my PET scan. She concurred with my oncologist’s diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer. She recommended an aggressive treatment: Dose-Dense Chemotherapy (DDC).

Standard chemotherapy regimens call for chemotherapy to be given every 3 or 4 weeks, depending on the regimen, allowing for healthy cells to recover between doses. However, research has shown that this 3-week break may also allow the now smaller, more rapidly dividing tumor cells to start growing rapidly again. DDC aims to achieve maximum tumor kill by increasing the rate of chemotherapy delivery, not by increasing the dosage. By administering the same doses on a 2-rather than a 3-week cycle, the chemotherapy disrupts the rapid growth phase of the tumor cells.

My oncologist was apprehensive of the DDC treatment because of my age (I was 72 at the time), the effect that amount of chemo would have on my white blood cell count, and the high risk of infection. Dr. Lake, on the other hand, had treated many patients of all ages with DDC and was optimistic about how I would respond to the treatment. So, I agreed to undergo the more aggressive DDC treatment. It was rough, but I persevered. I had little nausea, no vomiting and no hair loss. But the Neulasta shot that I would receive 24 hours after each chemo treatment to reduce the incidence of infection always knocked me for a loop for a day or two.

I had three months of DDC and 4-6 weeks of radiation. Surgery to remove the tumors was not recommended. All the doctors who treated me throughout this journey said that my case was very unusual and that my daughter and I qualified for genetic testing and research. I declined. I was so spent from the pokes and prods and the debilitating effects of the chemo, I could not endure anymore medical testing or treatment. It was a rough journey, but because of my strong faith in God and the support of my family and friends, I came out on the other side cancer free! My PET scan after the first chemo treatment showed that my body had responded very well to the treatment! The DDC had attacked the tumors as Dr. Lake had predicted, and disappeared! The doctors attribute my great response to the chemo not only to the early diagnosis and to the aggressive DDC treatment recommended by Dr. Lake, but also to the state of good health my body was in at the time of my diagnosis. I have always enjoyed eating fresh vegetables, probably because I grew up on a farm in the south. I have a banana and oatmeal each morning with a hot cup of tea. I eat healthy meals for lunch and dinner — always baked or broiled, not fried. I always had annual wellness exams and was a very active person. Most important, without my strong faith in God, I would not have made it through this journey.

I now have blood work done annually. My most recent annual check up showed no signs of a recurrence. I am now almost seven years cancer free!! Except for the neuropathy (tingling) in my feet, and a change in my weight and appetite, I am doing great! I am alive and still very active! I continue to do what I have to do to maintain my good health. To all my sisters, have faith in God, take care of your bodies and remember to get your annual mammograms.
 

Marjorie Worthy, April View My Story »

Marjorie Worthy

In 2012 I had both the best and the worst experiences of my life. The best, and happiest, was in April when as a surprise for my 80th birthday, my son and daughter flew in from the Caribbean for a celebration weekend.

The worst, and most stressful, was in January when two masses were discovered in my right breast.

This was not my first experience with cancer. In 1998 when I lived in Flushing, New York, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B cervical cancer and was treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed by a hysterectomy. I considered myself lucky that day when my surgeon in Flushing recognized my surname. He had gone to college and had worked in a hospital in Trinidad with my son.

When I moved to Connecticut in 1999, I worked for three years as a seamstress at Costume Bazaar in New Haven. After suffering severe back and hip pain, I had a right hip replacement. Eight days later, while still in rehab, I suffered a bone fracture requiring emergency surgery. Today I walk with a cane to avoid falling.

Last October, I decided to take the train to New York, followed by a subway ride to Queens, to visit a friend. The next morning, I awoke with a pain in my outer breast. I thought it was a strained muscle from going up and down the subway stairs. Fortunately, I already had an appointment scheduled with my og/gyn doctor for a follow-up visit. Instead of seeing my regular doctor, who is a male, I saw a female doctor, and I told her about the breast pain. She immediately sent me for a mammogram.

After two mammograms and two ultrasounds, I met Dr. Anees Chagpar, Director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Dr. Chagpar told me that there were two masses in the outer side of my right breast. And the miracle journey started from there!

You don’t know how many people are in the same condition until you are in it and hear about their experiences. I was scared and wondering what mine would be like.

I rely deeply on my Buddhist faith. Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy of life that promotes world
peace through individual happiness. Once you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with strong faith, you can win by overcoming troubles and difficulties. My members and friends continuously chanted with me and were very supportive. Though I had some fear, I believed deep down in my heart that I could beat this cancer. My motto is: “I shall not be defeated.”

I met with Dr. Chagpar again to discuss my options. On Dr. Chagpar’s advice I had a lumpectomy in February. The pathology report showed that the margins were not clean. (Margin is a term used to describe whether there are cancer cells right at the edge of the tissue that has been removed.) A second operation showed cancer cells still remained. So in April, two weeks after my joyous 80th birthday celebration, I had a mastectomy. The surgery was a success. I continue my cancer treatment, taking a chemo-preventive pill once a day. Despite the fact that I continue to have daily pain from the hip surgery, my attitude is upbeat.

Dr. Chagpar was the best thing that happened to me. I went to the right person in the right place at the right time. She is so kind, and speaks so softly that she captures your heart and puts all your fears to rest. I was really scared but just being in the environment of the Breast Center and feeling the atmosphere of the people there made me comfortable. The place is so calming and people are so kind and respectful. They showed me love. Even to this day, I enjoy going there. But I couldn’t have survived without having a strong in my Buddhist practice.

My mission is to be an inspiration to my family, my members and the whole universe. Even though we don’t always win, we don’t have to lose. That means we must not give up. We shall not be defeated. We have to keep fighting.

That is the story of my life as a two-time cancer survivor.

Maureen Harry, May View My Story »

Maureen Harry

One evening, I happened to perform a self examination and noticed a hard lump on my right breast. This was something I had never noticed before. I was a little inquisitive but not alarmed. It was my husband who suggested I see the doctor.

I was apprehensive but didn’t want to overreact. However, the consistent prompting by my husband that turned into demanding that my scheduled appointment in two weeks be change to an earlier date was GOD sent! The appointment resulted in an immediate referral for a biopsy. The surgeon knew immediately that the lump was cancerous, which the lab later confirmed.

However, I felt the need to get a second opinion to see what my options were.

The second opinion was from an oncologist who recommended a lumpectomy with follow-up treatment of either radiation or chemotherapy. The surgeon who had performed the biopsy suggested I have either a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, but made no mention of undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. My decision was based on the location of the cancerous lump and the pathology report that the tissue was a Grade III “cribriform” invasive carcinoma. I choose a partial mastectomy plus chemotherapy instead of a lumpectomy and radiation.

The recovery was matter-of-fact. I underwent six months of chemotherapy. I was a stay-at-home mom caring for two young children. They were my priority and my strength. My recovery was on autopilot and I had no time to think about my condition.

My parents died within a four-year period from the date of my breast cancer diagnosis. My faith kept me afloat. I knew I needed to be strong for the children. My family was my anchor. My support was and still is my spiritual faith.

God’s grace has given me the ability to be a 20-year survivor as of August 2013.

Creola Smith, June View My Story »

Creola Smith

I was born, raised and educated in New Haven, Connecticut. I graduated from Richard C. Lee High School, Fairfield University and the University of Bridgeport. I have been employed in education for the last 17 years. Prior to this profession I worked at Yale New Haven Hospital, Bank of Boston and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

My husband Arthur Morgan and I have been together for 35 years. We have three children and one daughter in law. The children are grown and experiencing life, being positive and productive. For them and my family I am thankful.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in March 2009. I have my annual mammography appointment in March around my birthday. That year, I had not been feeling well, no major complaints, just not myself. I also had a lingering sinus infection, which I sometimes suffer from. So at first when I felt swollen lymph nodes, I dismissed it. My appointment was a few months away, so I did not think much of it except that it was probably due to the sinus infection.

I had the mammogram done and waited for the results. I remember how I found out. It was a Friday afternoon. I was going home from work and my cell phone rang. Normally I would not answer it, but I saw it was my doctor. Not expecting bad news, I answered it. She asked if we could talk, I responded “yes” and she shared the news. Thank God, I was almost home. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked what the next step was going to be.

According to my oncologist, I did not follow the usual procedure because when the second mammography was done and my doctor saw suspect areas, he tattooed them at that time. That way they would know which area was of concern if the results were cancerous. I am thankful he did. The doctor assured me it would be fine as it was diagnosed early which is very important with cancer. They explained the protocol of treatment. I had a lumpectomy as a one day surgical procedure within the next month and afterwards, I had chemotherapy and radiation as the recommended treatment for me.

Through all of this, I remember telling the doctor I did not think I could handle the chemo because of the needles. When I have blood drawn it is done with butterfly needles because of my small veins; but chemo cannot be delivered that way. The solution was to put a shunt in to eliminate the possibility of my veins collapsing.

In my experience with breast cancer, I learned several things: always give thanks because it could always be worse; family and friends’ support is important; and nothing in this life is guaranteed. The positive thing about this experience is the people I have met and the strength and courage that have surfaced to get me though.

My family and friends rallied around to give me the support and understanding I needed, even though at times I did not know I needed it. My children made me fight harder to beat this. I thank God and all those who prayed, helped, and encouraged

Shereen Hamilton, July View My Story »

Shereen Hamilton

My name is Shereen Hamilton, however everyone calls me “Shebie.” I was 45 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. The cancer was Stage 1 and estrogen positive. My oncologist recommended a lumpectomy and put me on an estrogen blocker for five years. However, after careful consideration I decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction using the DIEP FLAP procedure. I felt it was a better option for me, due to my fear of the cancer spreading or a recurrence at some point, and because of my family history. After the surgery, my doctor informed me the type of cancer I had was very aggressive and that he recommended chemotherapy for six months.

I was very “down and out” because of my situation and very often felt alone. Even though I have family and lots of friends, I felt they didn’t understand the severity of my condition. Yet still life goes on and while I was trying to grasp my health issues, my mother Lillie Hamilton, was fighting her own battle having been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before. This was her second diagnosis. She was a 10-year throat cancer survivor — now you understand why I decided to have my breasts removed and not just the tumor. As fate would have it, my mom and I went through chemotherapy treatments together. And yet still life goes on. During this tumultuous time in my life, my only child, my daughter Najea Poindexter, was pregnant with my granddaughter Chloe. The day she went into labor I had just had chemotherapy the day before, and I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t think I would be able to witness her birth. But I asked God to give me the strength to go, and I was there to see her born… God is good!!!

It has taken a tremendous amount of strength to get me through this difficult time. However it was during this time that I developed a stronger relationship with God and relied heavily on my faith. Because I didn’t feel my loved ones understood my plight, I felt I could only receive a full compassionate and empathetic understanding from God… only he knows “WHY ME and WHY NOT ME?” During what should have been one of the happiest times in my life — awaiting the birth of my first grandchild — I found myself fighting for my life along with my mom who sadly passed away June 13, 2012. With all I’ve been through, I am blessed to be back at work full time, back to my daily routine and enjoying my precious grandchild. Life isn’t perfect but I’m here and alive today to tell my story, a survivor, two years and counting. I thank God every day for my health. I never would have made it without him.
To God Be The Glory!!!

Veronica Marion, August View My Story »

Veronica Marion

My name is Veronica Marion. I recently celebrated my 48th birthday and my sixth year of survivorship!

Six years ago during my annual exam, I shared with my doctor, Anita Petruzzelli, that I felt a small lump above my right breast. She immediately scheduled a mammogram and ultra sound. On August 30th I heard four words that changed my life forever: “You have breast cancer.” Normally my first call would have been to my mother, but she had passed away a few months before my diagnosis. I called all of my closest friends and female family members. I knew I could not and did not want to go through this journey alone. After six cycles of chemotherapy, it was time to make a decision regarding surgery. Consequently, on January 29, 2008, I had a bi- lateral mastectomy followed by five years of hormonal therapy.

During my treatment and recovery, I would recite Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” I knew this to be true because prior to my diagnosis, I had a lot on my plate. I was working in an extremely stressful environment. My mother was terminally ill and I was going through a divorce. Needless to say, I was not paying a great deal of attention to my body.

Fortunately, there is definitely life after breast cancer! God has turned each of those negative situations around. I am currently working as an Education Consultant with the State Education Resource Center. The relationship between my ex-husband and I has improved greatly. We are now able to co-parent our son peacefully. Although I miss my mother daily, God has blessed me with an amazing stepmother. Lastly, surviving breast cancer has given me the courage to make good on a promise I made to my mother before she passed away… I am currently pursuing my doctoral degree!
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.”
~2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)

Natashia “Nikki” Livingston, September View My Story »

Natashia “Nikki” Livingston

In being an advocate of my body, on August 14, 2011, at the age of 38, at 9:56 a.m., I found a suspicious lump the size of a walnut in my right breast.

After an exam from my ob/gyn, a referral for an ultrasound, which lead to a mammogram, and then a biopsy, I knew in my heart that my life was about to change.

From the very moment my og/gyn called to confirm my diagnosis, I went into protective mode. I am the mother of two children, 18-year-old Semaj who was a senior in high school and 13-year-old Shafton who was finishing the eighth grade.

I did not want this diagnosis to have an impact on their lives in a negative way or overshadow the milestones that were taking place in all of our lives. I met with a friend of a friend who had gone through breast cancer before me and she gave me a realistic indication of what I had ahead of me. I then sat with the breast surgeon, discussed my options and made my decision to have a double mastectomy and four months of chemotherapy treatments.

As a family, we accepted the hand that I was dealt, discussed the way in which we would support each other through this journey and faced cancer head on. On September 26, 2011, at 6:00 a.m., I became a survivor.

I knew that I had a long road ahead of me, but with a God-sent support group behind me, I made it through with little-to-no interruption of the normalcy that I had been accustom to living.

From the first phone call I made, my personal life was put in order, including post surgical accommodations at home, chauffeuring me to and from every appointment and the cooked meals for my family for at least two weeks. This planning process made a BIG impact on the way in which I would recover.

I want to thank my mother Viola and her prayer warriors for all of their prayers; my sisters in this life’s journey, Jennifer, Karen and Shaniequa, for the day-to-day, moment-by-moment, support they both gave me; my children, Semaj and Shafton, for giving me the instinct to fight this battle and being the reason I “bartered” with God to spare my life; my mother-in-law Debra who came and sat with me all day at times while I recovered; the host of friends and family who contributed to my financial recovery; Miss Bellah for being the BEST snuggle buddy a girl needs when you just want to cry your eyes out; and last but NOT least, my significant other, James, who made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world despite my new disfigurements and changes in appearance.

Without you all by my side, I would not be able to say that:

“My name is Natashia Livingston, born on November 14, 1972, and I AM A SURVIVOR!”

Donna Dulany, October View My Story »

Donna Dulany

My journey started April 15, 2012, when during a self-examination I discovered a lump in my right breast. Since my mother had had a benign cyst many years before, I assumed that’s what it was; but fortunately I still had it checked out. I went to my ob/gyn three days later and he sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound the next day. During the exam, as the technician started eliminating several benign options, I started losing hope for a positive outcome. A biopsy was scheduled the following week.

The four days that I waited for my results seemed like a lifetime. But I never imagined how my life was going to change until I got the call on April 27, 2012. “Mrs. Dulany, I am so sorry but it was not the news we were hoping for,” the doctor said. After that everything he said was a blur. I fell to the floor and a million questions went through my head…. Am I going to die? I’m only 42 years old, how can this happen to me? Who is going to raise my kids? It was that last thought that made me get up and realize that I had to fight with everything in me to make sure I was here for them.

Numerous tests revealed that I had a 1 cm tumor in only one breast with no evidence of spreading.

However, because my triple negative status eliminated the option of a targeted therapy, after much prayer and research I opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

Having the loving support of my husband and family as well as an amazing team of doctors, I confidently moved forward with my decision. On July 7, 2012, I had my surgery. A week later I was informed that my lymph nodes were clear and that I was officially Stage 1. One month after my surgery, I started chemotherapy, the one treatment that I dreaded the most. To my surprise, although it was difficult, it was definitely doable.

With God by my side, I made it through and on November 27, 2012 I finished my last treatment. Although I experienced most of the typical side effects – hair loss, fatigue, bone pain, numbness – I was determined to stay positive and live my life throughout. Although my reconstruction was to be completed the summer of 2013, I knew my journey was far from over.

I am determined to remain positive and live every day of my life to the fullest. I am grateful for the lessons that cancer has taught me:
• To appreciate the love of my family, friends and congregation
• To not sweat the small things
• To take the time to smell the roses

It has also strengthened my faith in my creator Jehovah God who has given me the strength to overcome this trial.

Philippians 4:13: “For all things I have strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”

Elaine Huckaby Goodson, November View My Story »

Elaine Huckaby Goodson

My name is Elaine, and this is my story. I was born on January 5, 1949 as the ninth child of Annie and Eugene Huckaby. I grew up in Newhallville and attended Ivy Street School, Lincoln Basset and Wilbur Cross High School. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University and my Masters from Southern Connecticut State University. After graduating, I returned home to begin a teaching career with the New Haven Public School System. Soon I met and fell in love with James Goodson. We were married on July 26, 1975. From that union we were blessed with Jaryn, James Jr., and Jason.

I enjoyed teaching and working with children in youth groups. I taught kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades — first at Dwight School and then at Mauro School. I also taught Sunday school at Immanuel Baptist Church, where I am an active member. In 2008, after teaching for 38 years, I decided it was time to retire. In my spare time I enjoyed reading, walking on the beach, line dancing, volunteering at my church and traveling with my family. After about two years I still had the desire to teach, so I accepted a position as a permanent substitute teacher at Amity Middle School.

In September 2012, I found out that my daughter was expecting and I was overjoyed with the thought of welcoming our first grandchild. I went for a routine physical with my regular physician in December 2012. He ordered a mammogram. I went into the test thinking all would be well. They discovered a lump on my right breast and I was sent for a biopsy. I was officially diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer on January 4, 2013, the day before my 64th birthday

I met with the oncology team led by Nina Horowitz at the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital shortly thereafter. They prescribed an aggressive course of action, and I was ready to fight this thing head on. My unwavering faith in God and the support I received from my family and friends assured me that I would be okay, and everything was going to be all right. I underwent a partial mastectomy on the right side and a reduction on the left in March with reconstruction, and it was a success.

The road to recovery was not easy, but God is always on my side. Unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer around the same time I received my diagnosis. He began radiation therapy and I began chemotherapy treatment on April 8, 2013. After being a caregiver to my elderly parents for a period of time and also my older brother, Eugene Huckaby, it was a little difficult to realize that after being diagnosed, I would have to be the recipient of someone else’s care. I am so grateful and blessed with my husband and children for their continued support and care. I am also thankful for the help of my sisters who came from Florida to assist my husband and me on our way
to recovery. I was nervous to begin this treatment, as I did not know what to expect. I was blessed with the strength to be present for the birth of my granddaughter this past April.

I am living testament today of how good God is. I finished my chemotherapy in July 2013 and my husband completed radiation in August. I began radiation therapy in September 2013. Our journey is far from over, but with our faith in God and the support of our family and friends we are both getting stronger every day. I thank God every day for the angels that he has placed in my life in the form of such loving and caring friends who have inspired me to stay strong, faithful, and determined.

Monica Peek, M.D., December View My Story »

Monica Peek, M.D.

Two weeks before my 36th birthday I noticed a small lump in my left breast on routine examination. At the time, I was an internist spending part of my clinical practice at the Breast Consultation Clinic at John Stroger Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital). I saw women with breast lumps and abnormal mammograms every week and knew the physical characteristics that favor a benign mass versus cancer.
I felt my own small lump and felt reassured — it was oval-shaped, smooth, had clear borders, moved easily around the breast and wasn’t tender.

I concluded that my breast mass was unlikely to be cancer and decided to wait until after my final examinations (I had returned to school to pursue a second master’s degree) to have a formal evaluation. It was my husband who changed my mind. “Just do it for me,” he said. I promised to call my radiology colleagues in the morning and schedule a mammogram.

Imagine my surprise to see the mammogram images. I had three abnormal masses in the left breast that warranted biopsy. I was reminded of the admonitions I give to all of my patients: “Always get a breast mass evaluated by a professional as soon as possible!” Doctors are often the worst patients, and in this case,it was my husband (and English teacher by trade) who had the good sense to remind me of standard medical practice.

The day after my 36th birthday I had a mastectomy for early stage breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in-situ) that was found on biopsy. I opted for a mastectomy (with reconstruction) instead of a lumpectomy for two reasons:

1. Only 1 of the 3 suspicious masses (the one I could feel) on the mammogram could be biopsied (the other 2 were close to the chest wall and impossible to reach) and I didn’t want to worry that we had left cancer behind in the breast.

2. I am inherently a small-breasted woman and doing a lumpectomy would have left me sufficiently disfigured as to require reconstructive surgery anyway.

However, for most women, lumpectomy with radiation would be a preferable option. The breast
cancer outcomes are the same. This underscores the importance of making a medical decision that fits your personal needs and clinical context.

My mastectomy went extremely well and I was ready to head home the next day. My recovery was slower than I had anticipated and filled with uncommon complications like “axillary web syndrome” and a large pleural effusion that required hospitalization and multiple drains of fluid off of my lungs.

Throughout it all, however, my husband was always at my side providing incredible support and love. My journey brought me closer to my husband and to the dear friends and family that helped me along the way. My experience with breast cancer also taught me how to, for the first time in my life, “let go and let God.” I am inherently an obsessive planner and believe that life is what you make of it. It was a humbling and growth-filled experience to not be in control and to allow myself to be at peace with whatever plans God had put in place for me

« Back to Stories of Hope