Namaste!I’m Desiree Walker. I have been chosen by God to spread the good news. Yes, breast cancer does not have to be a final destination. However, it can be a stop on one’s life journey. What an honor to be trusted by God to serve and give testimony to his people! Being a two-time breast cancer victor, I must give all honor and glory to my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. I am happy to spend this month with you. May you be inspired & encouraged by my journey.
You surprised? I certainly was! Was it chance or divine order that the cancer was diagnosed early? For several years, I had on-site mammograms through my then employer. I am so thankful I took advantage of this “perk.” In 2001, after comparing all of my films, the radiologist noticed my calcifications had changed shape. He said, “calcifications are common but the change is a red flag!” I had a stereotactic core needle biopsy done. A few days later, I heard those dreaded words “You Have breast cancer!” Was cancer not an older women’s disease? Clearly not! I spent endless hours and days researching this disease to educate myself. I wanted to be informed and empowered to aid the decisions made regarding my treatment with my healthcare team. A lumpectomy was recommended because of my age and early detection. I underwent two lumpectomies to achieve “clear margins” (a term used when the pathology report indicates the rim of the normal tissue surrounding tumor is removed and free of cancer cells). My adjuvant therapy consisted of five weeks of radiation and a hormone therapy, Zoladex. This treatment was taken because the cancer cells were ER/PR+ (i.e. positive for estrogen and progesterone). For two and a half years, I took monthly injections of Zoladex. The Zoladex caused me to experience medically induced menopause. Cancer can certainly take the wind out of your sail. However, Lena Horne said it best: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
To increase breast cancer awareness, be aware that being young (under age 40) does not exempt you from a diagnosis. I began volunteering. I became a Witness Role Model with two New York City breast cancer organizations: the Witness Project of Harlem and Survivors in Spirit. Through my story, I began to highlight the importance of early detection and For three years, I addressed Spirituality and Cancer at Cancer Care’s Living with Cancer conferences. I later began volunteering with SHARE: Self-Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer to aid their outreach efforts regarding ovarian cancer. I also began working with SHARE’s Side-by-Side program. The program is a unique educational program based on the concept that improving communication and coordination between patients and their healthcare team can enhance cancer patient’s care. The program works with medical students and doctors. In addition, I began attending local and national breast cancer conferences to stay up-to-date on the disease.
In early 2009, I had my annual mammography, which was negative. Six and a half months later a lump appeared. Another mammography was done. In addition, ultrasound & core needle biopsies were done. A few days later, I was informed that I had a breast cancer recurrence. I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. This time, my adjuvant therapy was comprised of a Benadryl & steroid combination since I had an allergic reaction toboth chemotherapy and targeted therapy. My chemo regimen was six rounds of two different drugs over 18 weeks. I had 52 infusions of Herceptin (targeted therapy) over one and a half years due to complications. This therapy was necessary since the cancer cells had an over-expression of the Her2 protein. As a result of the long-term steroid use, I developed cataracts. Later I was placed on an oral endocrine therapy called Tamoxifen since the cancer cells were ER/PR+ again. The road to recovery certainly has been long and steep with numerous hurdles to overcome. However, by God’s grace and mercy, excellent physicians, my family and friends I am victorious. I am also, eternally grateful for each day, always remembering to live in the moment.
As a result of my experiences following the recurrence, I joined SHARE at New York State’s Lobby Day in Albany, NY to advocate and raise awareness with legislators. I also became a member of the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) and began attending their annual Summit and Lobby Day in Washington, DC. In an ongoing effort tounderstand breast cancer, I applied and was accepted into NBCC’s Project Lead Institute. It is an intensive basic science course on breast cancer for activists. I continue to attend conferences and webinars on breast cancer.
I feel blessed to be surrounded by my two beautiful and vivacious children. They have kept the wind in my sail. I am grateful to my sister, Yolanda for taking the helm as my eyes and ears throughout my treatment. Also, for her joining me in my breast cancer work. My daughter, son, surrogate children, sisterhood of breast cancer survivors along with a host of family and friends shower me in prayers and other immeasurable ways. The cancer journey should not be traveled alone. Thus, I am so thankful to have a supportive network with me on this breast cancer journey. The two words, thank you, cannot fully convey my heartfelt appreciation. In closing, remember there’s a Spanish proverb that says ,“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” Phillipians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Grace & Peace.
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