Claudine James

From test to Testimony GOD is good all the time and all the time GOD is good. What a great year!!! It was 2000 and it started with a bang. I turned the BIG 30 on January 12. My one year anniversary date as an Administrative Judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was rapidly approaching, as was my best friend’s wedding. I had GOD on my side. I had my health, a good job, good friends – what more could a girl want?

On July 24, 2000, I went in for my yearly exam. I was three weeks late, but since I was so healthy, no big deal; or so I thought. As usual, Dr. Carole Jordan-Harris, my ob-gyn, started the exam with the clinical breast exam (CBE). While examining the right breast she found a hard mass. After she completed the exam, she told me to have the mass checked. I already knew what the result would be. The walk to the parking deck was the longest walk of my life. Dr. Jordan-Harris scheduled me for an ultrasound and mammogram on August 4, at Tower Imagining Women’s Center in Beverly Hills. Because the suspicious mass warranted tissue sampling, on August 10, I had a needle core biopsy. Even though I knew what the result would be, August 14 would not come fast enough. I tried to contact Dr. Jordan-Harris on August 14 – to no avail. Then on August 16, 2002 while driving home from work in Los Angeles rush hour traffic, my cell phone rang and it was Dr. Jordan-Harris. She called to give me my results. I will never forget those words, “This is Dr. Harris returning your call”. “I received your results and they show you not only have breast cancer, but you have infiltrating ductal carcinoma”. There are two types of breast cancer, in situ and infiltrating carcinoma. The difference being in situ is confined or localized to the tumor site whereas infiltrating means the cancer cells have spread beyond or outside of the tumor. It is more aggressive, but understand breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.” The only words that would come out were “What next.” She responded that she would schedule me so see a surgeon.

So now the hard part was telling my parents and friends. Later that night I called my parents and with both of them on the telephone I told then my diagnosis. There was silence then my dad said let us know what the surgeon says. Then we said our good byes.

On Wednesday, August 23, 2000, I went to see a general surgeon. I was late when I saw him because he was running late from surgery. Once he entered the room he examined my breast. He explained my diagnosis and told me that based on the type of cancer the survival rate is usually about five years. Once you pass those five years, it increases. He stated that the most important thing was to remove the tumor, so he scheduled me for surgery that Friday the 25th of August at 6:00 am.

As we, my friend Patel and I, were leaving his office, she asked what did he had said. She became very upset with me because I told her I was not having the surgery on Friday. I explained that things were moving to fast and that I needed more information. Had the cancer spread? After surgery then what? What about my job? How are my parents going to get here in less than a day notice? What, if any, were the possible complications? What about my best friend’s wedding? What am I thinking about – contact M.D. Anderson.

The next day I spent researching both my diagnosis and M.D. Anderson. After several attempts, I spoke with Jackie Preston, one of my many angels who diligently, above and beyond the call of duty to get me in as soon as possible. On September 12th, I entered M.D. Anderson Nelly B. Connelly Breast Center to begin a week of testing. While being examined by my medical oncologist, he discovered that I had an enlarged lymph node under my right arm. He immediately sent me to have a biopsy which came back positive, the cancer had spread. The following week we met to discuss treatment options. Because the size of my tumor was 3.2 cm, I was Stage II node positive. As a result, the doctor recommended chemotherapy (to reduce the size of the tumor), surgery and radiation. The chemotherapy was to be given in eight cycles every three weeks if T-cell count was not to low. I was to take two different chemo drugs.

On October 4th they placed my central venous catheter above my left breast. The procedure that normally takes fifteen minutes took about an hour. Two days later on Friday, October 6th, I was having my first cycle of chemo. When I returned to the hospital the following day to get disconnected, I felt nothing. Where was the nausea, pain and aches? The next day my dad arrived. When he asked how I was feeling, I responded, “Fine, I don’t understand all the hype about chemo.” I think I spoke a little too soon. Before day on Monday, once the drugs had fully saturated my body, the pain, aches, nausea and vomiting had arrived and was attacking my body full force. GOD where are you? The body aches were indescribable.

About four days after my first chemo treatment I began experiencing hair loss. By October 12th I had total hair loss. The next eleven months of my life was the hardest part of the TEST. It consisted of chemo every three weeks if my T-cell count permitted, and surgery (lumpectomy) followed by six weeks of radiation. It strained me financially, physically and emotionally, yet I kept the faith. It was very difficult at times, but I knew when I was not able to pray, GOD listened to my heart. Additionally, I had prayer warrior nationwide, known and unknown, who continually lifted me, my family, and friends, up in prayer.

It’s been almost two years since I first begin my TEST. Even thought the next five years of my life, which is the crucial period for a reoccurrence, I will be closely monitored, the results were victorious and many blessings were a direct outcome of my experience. I advanced to a new level spiritually, it brought my family closer, I was a shining light for all to see, especially those closest to me. It lead me to Sister’s Network, Inc. an African-American breast cancer survivor organization. Today, I have partially completed the TEST phase and advanced to TESTIMONY.

My testimony begins by thanking GOD for being so good and for his grace, even though I did not deserve it. I then tell of my diagnosis and treatment. I conclude by pleading to women of all ages, religions, economic and educational backgrounds to examine their breast, get a yearly clinical examination and a mammogram regularly. We must stop the silence, educate ourselves, and take control of our health, if we plan to eradicate the dreadful disease – breast cancer.

“My son…give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to all their flesh.” (Proverbs 4:20-22)


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