I guess you could say that this testimony starts back in December, 2011. Most of my friends were making plans for Spring Break missions, and I was still praying about it. I could feel God tugging on my heart to go, I just didn’t know where. That prayer was finally answered when my campus minister, Brad Bensinger, contacted me and said that a group from First Baptist was going to Costa Rica for a medical mission trip and they could use me. I knew it was what God wanted. I didn’t even ask my family, I signed up before consulting them.
During the planning for this trip, I was throwing the softball with some friends and noticed that my chest hurt when I threw the ball far. I found the lump later that week. It was painful and I was terrified, but I knew that everything would be fine. In February 2012, I went to a clinic in Troy and saw a doctor who examined me. The lump had grown to the size of a softball by then. During this extremely uncomfortable exam, he says “Wow, that’s a monster”. That is exactly what I didn’t need to hear. I was fighting back tears and trying to hold myself together and praying the entire time that I could somehow just get up and run out of there because I didn’t want to hear any of his news. He asked me if the lump was painful, if breast cancer ran in my family, and he also asked me how much coffee I drank in a 24-hour period. When I answered, “Yes, very painful. No, there are no cases of breast cancer. And I have about 2 cups of coffee like any college student”, he just nodded. He then told me that cancer isn’t painful and that what I was experiencing was a caffeine problem. If I cut out my caffeine I would be fine within a month. This was music to my ears and I was so relieved that I just sat in my car and cried. I knew that the Costa Rica trip was still in play and I could go.
Spring Break came and I had the best week of my life serving God and his people in Costa Rica. I met new lifelong friends while I was there and fell in love with the country. During our trip we were offered coffee during the middle of the day. I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t know if you have had Costa Rican coffee, but it is wonderful. When I got home to the states, the lump was still there and it had actually grown. I just brushed it off because I assumed it was because I had not been faithful to my doctor’s orders. Weeks passed and it got to the point where I decided it was time to go back to the doctor. Around this time, my Dad informed me that he had just got a new job and that he wasn’t eligible for health insurance for a few months. I decided to keep the problem I was having to myself and not let anyone know. As far as my family knew, caffeine made my body do weird things.
During that summer, I was working at Zaxby’s as a cashier. The employees that work up front are responsible for making the tea and bringing it up front. The tea urns are pretty heavy and one day I noticed it was becoming difficult for me to lift them and I would be exhausted after only working a few hours. I knew it was time to go back to the doctor. I finally told my mom about the continuing problem and we were both in agreement that I needed to be checked out immediately. I decided to see a nurse in Troy. She examined me and I could see the concern in her eyes. I knew it wasn’t good. She just wrote a lot of notes and stepped outside to call a few numbers. When she came back in the room, she already had an appointment set up for me with Dr.Marker in Dothan that Friday. Dr.Marker is a surgeon with Wiregrass Surgical Associates. She told me that I needed an ultrasound and biopsy and it would be best if he did them. She was certain that what I was experiencing was either an infection of my mammary glands, or cancer. I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t even make it to my car before the tears started flowing. All I could do was pray and pray hard. I prayed for peace and understanding. I prayed for courage and strength. He gave me all of these things abundantly. I walked into Dr.Marker’s office that Friday knowing that no matter what news I would receive that day, God was going to take care of me.
Dr.Marker examined me for a short time and looked even more concerned than my nurse from a few days prior. He sent me down the hall for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound, infection was quickly ruled out. He performed an extremely painful biopsy and did not let anyone touch the sample. He walked it to the lab himself and gave me orders to go downstairs for a mammogram. At this point, I knew that we weren’t getting any good news that day. The mammogram seemed to last forever. When it was finally over, I was sent for a lunch break. I guess the doctor wanted me to have food in my stomach before he saw me again. I was nervous, but as the same time I could hear that hushed,comforting voice telling me that it would be alright. I arrived back at his office an hour later and was seated immediately in an exam room where he could speak to me. He had a nurse with him and she couldn’t hide emotions well. She already knew the diagnosis and I could tell what it was by the tears rolling down her face. Dr. Marker plainly told me that I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Inflammatory Breast Cancer is mainly found in African-American women over the age of 50. He told me that I could be treated with chemo, radiation, and a mastectomy. He told me that I had a very aggressive cancer, but we were going to fight it. He had already found an oncologist for me and I would see him that following Monday to find out what stage it was and what type of chemo I would need. I felt like I was in a really weird dream. I was strangely ok with what he was saying. I knew that my God have given me peace when I needed it the most. He also gave me a strong Mom. She sat in that room with me and as much as the news tore her up, she didn’t let it show. Dr.Marker sent me down to get a CAT Scan so that my oncologist could see it on Monday. I went down there and by then quite a few of my friends had already found out the news and I was already receiving more texts and calls than my phone could hold. After the scans were over, I went home and tried to let the news sink in. My family and friends also don’t hide emotions well. I was keeping it together, but they were not even trying to hide how terrified they were. People were visiting and bringing food and gifts. I felt like I was attending my own funeral. The worst part is that I had friends away on mission trips and spread out all over the world. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever see them again. That scared me the most. Other things also concerned me like leaving Troy and my church family there at Bush Memorial Baptist. I love serving there and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else at that time of my life.
Monday came and I met Dr.McAllister, my oncologist. He was so kind to me, but he didn’t sugar coat anything. He told me that he had reviewed my scans all weekend and he was certain of the diagnosis. It was Stage 4 and it had spread to my lungs, liver, and bones. He said that we would treat it with three types of chemo and then go from there. The thing I admired the most about Dr.McAllister is that he didn’t give me an “expiration date”. He was just a picture of faith and I knew that he was my oncologist for a reason. I have been blessed with wonderful physicians and nurses, but what is truly amazing about them is that they will be the first to admit that God is my Great Physician.
My port was put in on June 18th and chemo started shortly after. Because my tumors were so big and in every single vertebrate, the first round of chemo was extremely painful. The next couple of days became horrible. I couldn’t eat, I was exhausted all of the time, I was having anxiety attacks, and I couldn’t sleep. I remember praying and asking God to just take my pain away. That prayer wasn’t answered immediately, but a few weeks later. I slowly started to get back to “normal” and was able to eat regularly and get ready for the day without almost passing out. Our prayers about finances were being answered too. People from all over were reaching out and starting up fundraisers, setting up donation opportunities, and so much more. Every time I would log on Facebook I was overwhelmed by how many complete strangers were messaging me and praying for me. It was very humbling. All I could do was praise God and thank him for meeting my needs and keeping me alive. I had a new appreciation for simply being able to breathe and walk. Things I formerly took for granted.
Chemo got easier. I was becoming friends with the nurses and patients. I am the youngest patient that they see, and they definitely spoil me. It was also easier to speak about what God was doing in my life. People from various churches and schools were inviting me to speak and I was surprised that anyone would want to listen to me. Everything was starting to fall into a really unusual routine. I was just starting to get used to it when I started getting sick. My chemo called “Taxotere” was making me develop Interstitial Pneumonitis, which is like a recurring Pneumonia. I was put on steroids and that definitely helped my lungs, but made me put on weight fast. Cancer is definitely not a pretty disease. I was losing my hair and starting to look swollen. I had to pray about this a lot. I can say that this disease has made me less vain. And I thank God for that.
Dr. McAllister switched me to a different type of chemo called “Abraxane”. Abraxane is much better. However the effects of Taxotere were still making me sick. I was put in the hospital in September because I couldn’t breathe. The Taxotere had made my lungs fill with fluid and was basically drowning me. That was cleared up with even more steroids. I was able to get out of the hospital just in time to see my niece delivered into the world. That was the best day of my life and I thank God everyday for letting me be a part of that. A few days later I developed a high fever, started shaking, had blue skin, and was just pitiful. I was rushed to The Medical Center and they told me that I had a blood infection. It took them a few days to discover that it was staph. and it may have originated in my port. I was put on an IV of antibiotics, continued my steroids, received blood thinner shots in my stomach, and was on a heart monitor everyday for the next week. This was really discouraging, especially with a new niece at home that I could be holding. The doctors sent me home with orders to be at the hospital every morning for the next three weeks to receive antibiotics through my port and then they would test my blood and see if the infection was still there. I was just grateful to be out of there.
It’s now the end of the three weeks and we are waiting to see if my blood is infection-free. If it’s not, I will have to have my port removed and replaced. As aggravating as surgery is, I know that God has a plan and he has taken really good care of me. I spoke to Dr.Marker last week. He told me that when he diagnosed me, he didn’t think I would live past the summer. He said I am a rare case and that his patients usually don’t respond this well to chemo. I also found out that I was already Stage 3 by the time I found the lump and was misdiagnosed. My God is sovereign and has total control over my life. I am so grateful to be alive and serving him. I thank him for this disease. Breast Cancer has brought me closer to him than I have ever been. There have been times when I have been so mad at him for putting this burden on me, but I am quickly reminded that I am his child and he isn’t going to let me go. I’m not letting go of him either.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." - James 1:2-3