By Ralph Kowalski
The New Citizens Press
DETROIT, MI — The night before Easter 2005, Cheryl Perkins, 37, and her family colored Easter eggs in their kitchen. Joining the festivities were a neighbor, Leslie, age 8 and a friend, Sydney, age 10.
Cheryl understands the power and love that family and friends have to offer her. Cheryl is a mother to four beautiful girls Haille, age 12, Stefanie age 10, Natalie age 5 and Kennedy age 3.
She said, “I discovered the cancer by a self breast exam. I was still breastfeeding my youngest daughter and I felt a lump. I dismissed it initially because it assumed it was a clogged milk duct. This is somewhat common when breastfeeding. I had one before and after using a warm compress it went away.”
This time the compress did nothing and the lump seemed to be getting bigger by the day. She called her physician(OB/GYN) and told him the scenario. He recommended that she get a mammogram just to confirm that it was nothing.
It took about two weeks to get into the mammogram facility at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit.
Cheryl said,” When I went in for the mammogram, I went by myself because my husband, of fourteen years (14), Steve had to go to a funeral of a close family friend and I told him that I would meet him there. After Having the mammogram, I felt immediately that something was wrong. I remember being comforted by some women at the facility. The radiologist asked if I could stay and have an ultrasound .”
After she had the ultrasound, she was told that it would be a good idea if she could get a biopsy done immediately.
“At this point I totally freaked out. I could not reach my husband (because he was at the funeral) and his parents were also there. I called a close friend of mine who came to the hospital immediately and put someone else on the phone to keep calling my husband until he picked up. I had the biopsy that day, a Thursday, November 6, 2003. I had to wait until Monday, November 10, 2003 for my results,” she said.
Cheryl had just started a new job and was going through orientation at Children’s Hospital in the NICU as an RN in Detroit. She graduated from an Accelerated second Degree Program at University of Detroit/Mercy. Her first degree was from Howard University.
She got her results that Monday afternoon. On On Wednesday, she was at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit for a consultation with the surgeon and oncologist. She had all of my pre-testing the remainder the week and started chemotherapy the following Tuesday.
She had chemotheraphy for 6 months, followed by a double mastectomy. She had the second breast removed as a precaution. Then radiation and reconstructive surgery followed.
Cheryl is a RN. She took the NCLEX (the test for nurses to get their license) during my chemotherapy, actually in December 2003 and passed on the first try.
Currently, she is a Labor and Delivery Nurse at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit. Cancer has affected her life in so many different ways.
Cheryl said, “I will never be the same person I was. Every milestone in my children’s life is so precious to me. Every smile or the first time they do something.Every birthday means that we both have made it together. It has definitely made me think about death. Not many 30ish people think about death. I just thank God every morning for waking me up and allowing me another day to spend with my family.
“When first learned of the cancer, I did not want to tell the girls. It was just too much to bear, but after a couple of months we told them that I had cancer and that the doctors were doing everything possible to get me better. My daughter, Stefanie, had the hardest time with the news. Her grades slipped and she worried non-stop. I am glad to say that she is doing my better now in school and she still worries, but I try to tell her everything that is going on with me.
Steve has taken Cheryl’s cancer in stride. He has been very supportive. He keeps a positive outlook on everything, which helps me when she is in one of my sad periods.
Her friends and family has been very supportive of her. They know when she needs encouragement and they know when I need space.
My mother’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her 60’s and my maternal grandmother was diagnosed in her 80’s. There are also relatives on my paternal side of the family but, I did not know any of them. I believe my father’s aunts.
“It is so important that you make sure that you know the history of both your parents. If I would have known more about my father’s side of the family having cancer, I would have been more aware.”
Cheryl had a very hard time with the medical treatment and chemotherapy made her ill.
She said, “I was nauseated and vomited for the first few days after treatment. The medication to combat the nausea did not help a whole lot. I had no energy and my sense of smell was heighten to the nth degree. The smell of food cooking made me sick or the smell of perfume did the same.”
Before Cheryl’s hair fell out she went to a wig shop. Her mid-back length hair started to fall out after her first treatment.
She said, “I went to my hairdresser and asked him to cut it off to a short style. I almost had to hold the scissors for him because he did not want to do it. After I told him why I wanted it done, he did it. After another month I went back and told him to cut the rest off because I had patches of hair and it looked ridiculous. I wore that wig until Mother’s Day of 2004. I had just enough hair to cover my head, but I had enough of that wig and I wanted "ME" back.”
Cheryl said that she would tell other women that breast cancer does affect young Black women at an alarming rate and that when their cancers are found it is usually at a much more advanced stage when compared to white women.
She added that she would also tell other women to do their monthly self breast exams and to be seen by a Physician at least once a year for a clinical exam.
Mostly, she said that people should trust their instincts and if something does not seem right then get it checked out as soon as possible. Do not wait, hoping that it will go away.
She asserted that if the first doctor does not take you seriously then find a second opinion. Keep trying until you feel satisfied with the result. Making sure that everyone on your team of doctors has your best interest at heart, and does not consider you as just another patient was another important issue as well.
The options of chemotherapy, radiation or surgery are not pretty, but she said but you have what you must do to live.
Cheryl said, “Pray and try to stay positive. I have my good days and I have my bad days, but I try to remember that "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." My children and my family mean everything to me and I thank God for every day that I am here to share with them.”