Beverly Howlett-DeShields


the Veterans Hospital in West Haven for eight years as a nursing assistant. One night while lying in bed I happened to rub my hand across my breast and felt a knot. I wasn’t too alarmed because I was always told that I had cystic breasts. Anyway, I went to the doctors and a biopsy was performed. The following week I was called to come into the office and was told it was cancerous. I didn’t panic as the doctors explained that I needed to have a left mastectomy performed with reconstruction followed by chemotherapy. My primary doctor was affiliated with doctors from Yale. I informed him that I had previously worked with all of the top surgeons for five years on the Yale surgical floor. Needless to say I had the best breast and plastic surgeons, so that gave me a lot of confidence.

After my surgery, I had an extender inserted inside the breast with a seal on it. This pinpointed the place where saline could be inserted once a week until the breast reached the desired size. It was a little painful, but I just sucked it up. The time came for chemo. I took a
pill four days a week, and on the fifth day I received the chemo injection, which gave me a sensation all through my body that lasted for a few minutes. The chemo pill I had to take would make me nauseous, but I realized that I had to force myself to eat something. I only
missed two days of work. I was determined to fight. My fingernails turned blue, I had brown spots on my hands and, worst yet, I started to lose my hair, which was long and thick. I would look in the mirror while combing my hair and was scared to actually comb it because large
clumps would come out. But I had a savior. My hairdresser at the time, Jackie Lanier, noticed my hair falling out. I told her it was because of the medicine I was taking, never telling her it was chemo. This young lady was awesome. She cut it down short, glued and sewed in some
“bad” hair styles that I always wanted – but didn’t want to cut my hair for the styles.  For 26 years I was in remission. Then, in October 2018, I started being bothered by an itch under my arm, which led to discovery of a knot under my armpit. I went to have it checked
out. The doctor ordered a biopsy, which showed it was cancerous. Turns out it was genetically the same cancer I had in 1992 that had been slowly growing. The doctor was amazed, as was I. But thanks be to God, treatment required that I only had to take a pill, Letrozole – no chemo or radiation. (I had previously taken Tamoxifen when first diagnosed.)  I never allowed myself to cry over the whole ordeal because I remembered a well-known cancer doctor’s quote: “Beating cancer is mind over matter.” That quote has stayed with me all of these years. God has truly blessed me. I retired from the VA Hospital in 2010 after a 36-year career.

I would like to convey these messages to other women:

  • Early detection is key. Make sure you are performing self-tests and having
    mammograms as ordered.
  • If you are diagnosed, do your research on your options and surgeons.
    Invest in yourself. Look good from head to toe and you will feel good about
    yourself. (I always loved fashion.)
  • Hold your head up high and don’t allow yourself to have a pity party because
    you will lose all your control over your healing.
  • Surround yourself with family and friends. A support system is priceless. (Mine
    helped me through the process.)
  • Don’t take unnecessary time off from work before anything happens to you. When I was diagnosed, I had                                                        earned 1080 sick leave hours that allowed me to take three months off with pay.

May God bless all of you who have to endure this journey


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