In honour of breast cancer awareness month, this series will highlight stories of strong and courageous women who have won their battle with this life-changing illness. Yvonne Alexander from Dominica shares her very personal and unique story with us, revealing how she is coping post-cancer and offers words of advice to the public and those who may be suffering from this illness right now.
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed on 14th July, 2015 at the age of 59, while working in Barbados.
What stage were you diagnosed with?
Breast Cancer Stage II A.
How was the cancer initially detected? (i.e. through a breast self-exam (BSE), a clinical breast exam (CBE) or an annual mammogram)
It was initially detected by me through BSE. It did not show up on a mammogram or an ultrasound, but was confirmed by a biopsy.
How did you feel when you first received the news?
I was angry that annual screening through conventional means failed to detect it. I felt devastated, fearful, uncertain, and apprehensive. I was in denial. I kept thinking, ‘this cannot be, why me, I take such good care of my health’.
Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?
No immediate family but some second and third cousins were diagnosed many years ago.
Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome that or find one?
I found support through my family, a few close friends – one who is a counsellor and another from my church community – plus my colleagues from work were also very supportive. Later I was introduced to a cancer support group in Barbados, and on my return home, I found one in Dominica.
Tell me about your treatment process.
I had a mastectomy on my left breast the week following diagnosis. I then began hormone therapy for 5 years and took vitamin D supplements. I took personal responsibility for modifying my diet to a more heavily plant-based food for prevention, and to offset side effects of the hormone treatment.
Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
I did Recent Disease Management training one day a week over a period of six weeks. I also followed healthy living tips from cancer support groups, and ongoing follow-up from Princess Margaret Hospital Oncology Unit.
Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome them?
No. I was a Police Officer and belonged to a group medical insurance. Also, all services required pre and post-surgery were available in Barbados where I was diagnosed.
What message would you like to provide women and men in the community?
I would like to stress the need to be proactive and take responsibility for one’s health through regular health check-ups, breast self-examination, regular exercise, healthy eating habits, getting adequate rest and always maintaining a sound spiritual base. While you are not guaranteed that you may never be diagnosed with cancer, these proactive measures can result in early detection and a healthy body, mind, and spirit, which can withstand any challenge.
By: Chantel Dacosta