(Editor’s note: Pink October is a series of stories highlighting breast cancer awareness month.)
The pandemic caused Helen Blocker-Adams to delay her annual mammogram in 2020. She got back on track with one in March 2021, and she believes it saved her life.
“Normally, I would get a letter (after the mammogram) saying everything was fine, but this letter said I needed to come back,” said Blocker-Adams, who penned a memoir of her cancer journey called Unusual Determination.
A follow-up found a small tumor about the size of a dime in her left breast. Because of where it was located, she would likely not have found it in a self-check. Her diagnosis on April 8, 2021, was for triple negative cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, triple negative cancers are found in about 10-15% of breast cancer patients.
“These cancers tend to be more common in women younger than age 40, who are Black, or who have a BRCA1mutation. TNBC differs from other types of invasive breast cancer in that it tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, and tends to have a worse prognosis,” the website said.
But doctors found the cancer early. It was Stage 1. Had she waited another year, the aggressive cancer would likely have grown and possibly spread, she said.
And there was one course of treatment following her lumpectomy, she said.
“Four rounds of chemo and 20 rounds of radiation – those were the only things I could do to get rid of the cancer,” she said.
During her journey, she journaled the experience – the highs and lows, the good and bad. She lifted some of those passages from her diary and placed them in the book. And looking back she’s grateful for writing everything down because the nine months from the initial mammogram until ringing the bell on Dec. 17, 2021, were a whirlwind.
“If I didn’t journal this whole experience, I would almost forget that I went through that,” she said.
Details such as the discoloration and peeling of her skin during radiation, the “nightmare” of trying to find a wig and just giving into wearing caps and beanies and her emotions were just a few of the things she chronicled.
Everything went on the timeline her team of doctors laid out, she said.
Chemotherapy was rough.
“It takes you to a dark, dark hole with a fatigue that’s unlike any other fatigue I’ve ever experienced. Fatigue and fog, and when you’re almost feeling human again, it’s time for the next round of chemo,” she said.
Doctors told her she’d lose her hair soon after her first chemotherapy infusion, and it happened. She remembers the emotions associated with losing her hair. Her nephew told her not to worry because it would grow back. That was reassuring, and indeed, it did grow back.
She said her doctors never sugar-coated anything but weren’t fatalistic either. She is grateful that they gave her all the information she needed.
She said she was never afraid that she would die. Her faith in God, the support of a small circle of family and friends who knew of her diagnosis and the dedication of her medical team kept her going during her treatments.
She’s had additional mammograms since the treatment, and they’ve all been clear, she said. Now she wants to use her experience to help others and give them hope.
“I wanted my book to be a blessing,” she said.
Blocker-Adams will be signing copies of her book at the Pink 10K run Saturday, Oct. 28 at Evans Towne Center Park. The run/walk will be at 9:30 a.m., and vendors will be on site most of the day.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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