As instructed to Erica Rimlinger
My three youngsters and I had a simple time breastfeeding, and I nursed my youngsters for so long as potential. Friends teased, “Those babies are old enough to ask for a soda,” however I didn’t care. I’m an insurance coverage agent by commerce and a well being advocate by ardour. I taught train courses for pregnant ladies and supplied lactation training for ladies within the WIC program. I’m a cheerleader for wellness, and I promote the health-enhancing advantages of breastfeeding for mothers and infants. On the highway of well being, my lane is prevention.
When a tough lump appeared whereas I used to be nursing my third son, I believed I had a clogged milk duct. In my years of breastfeeding and dealing with breastfeeding ladies, I’d seen clogged milk ducts, however I’d by no means had one earlier than. The regular treatments of heat compression and therapeutic massage didn’t work, so, puzzled, I went to the physician.
I’d not too long ago moved from Rochester, New York, to Houston, Texas, to get my diploma in kinesiology with a give attention to well being teaching at Texas Woman’s University (TWU). I lived close to Texas Medical Center, a block away from the TWU campus. With no non-public healthcare supplier (HCP), I went to TWU’s Student Health Office, which was run by the University of Texas. To my shock, the HCP instructed me I wanted a mammogram. Then, after seeing the mammogram, she instructed me to get an appointment with an oncologist.
“Why would I see an oncologist for a breastfeeding issue?” I requested. “Tell me straight. What is going on?” I attempted to get the HCP to look me within the eye. She averted my gaze and my query, and mentioned, “If someone says you don’t need a mastectomy, they are lying to you.”
I used to be 43 years outdated and a wholesome mother. I exercised six days per week. I by no means took or wanted to take drugs, even an aspirin. Now, the phrase “oncologist” hung within the air like a ghost. My father and his two brothers had died of pancreatic most cancers. I knew what an oncologist did.
Tamiko Byrd together with her youngsters, 2022. (Photo/Cocoa Rae David)
Tamiko Byrd together with her youngsters, 2022. (Photo/Cocoa Rae David)
Two weeks later, I sat at a spherical convention desk on the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center with a staff of 5 medical professionals. I acquired my straight reply. I’d undergone a full day of testing and discovered I had stage 4 breast most cancers. My left breast was riddled with tumors that had metastasized to my shoulder blade.
I remembered what my sister, a nurse practitioner, mentioned when our father was identified with stage 4 most cancers: “There’s no stage 5.” That day, my sister was on a enterprise journey in Costa Rica once I known as and instructed her. She fainted.
I felt faint, too, however I had a combat to win. Within per week, my mother and sister arrived in Houston to help my remedy, which started nearly instantly with chemotherapy.
I now felt simply as sick as my prognosis implied. I believed I’d identified what fatigue was, however I didn’t. I believed I knew how sick I might be and survive, however I didn’t. I misplaced my hair, and my eyebrows and eyelashes: the essence of my womanhood. The most cancers middle had a magnificence salon the place they shaved me, so I wouldn’t have to look at my hair fall out strand by strand. I silently prayed, “It’s just you and me, God! I’m scared. I don’t want to die, God!”
I had been working 30 hours per week whereas I attended college. My well being protection would have kicked in after 90 days, however I used to be identified with most cancers the week earlier than protection began, so I used to be denied protection. Fortunately, I labored in insurance coverage for years, and I knew I may attraction. As I labored, attended college, raised my sons and fought for my life with each cell in my physique, I additionally went to battle with the medical health insurance firm, interesting its choice. I used to be extraordinarily and unusually lucky that the hospital allowed me to proceed remedy throughout my attraction. I might, after combating for months, in the end win the attraction. In the meantime, I utilized for Medicaid and acquired it.
I do know that if I didn’t occur to have a background in insurance coverage, I by no means may have navigated the advanced and time-consuming attraction course of. I may barely handle it within the situation I used to be in.
I misplaced feeling in my toes and fingers. My joints ached. My fingernails and enamel loosened. But that wasn’t the worst of it. After my fifth spherical of chemotherapy, I misplaced management of my bowels at work. “This can’t be happening,” I sobbed, as I frantically rushed to wash up my mess within the lavatory with skinny brown paper towels in between bouts of throwing up. I left work that day and by no means went again.
As robust as this was, I had religion that God was with me. I journaled my journey on Facebook to rally help and let my family and friends know we had been combating. From as distant as Africa, Rochester and Costa Rica, my group rallied with prayer circles, groceries, meals, wigs, childcare assist and extra. Before my mastectomy, I threw a going-away get together for my left breast. It was an intimate second the place I sang, cried, prayed and mourned for my breast. In Rochester, I had run a free group train program known as Soul Fitness 10 hours per week. Now my outdated college students had been instructing me that whenever you give one thing to the group, the group offers again.
One month after my mastectomy, my grade level common dropped to 2.99 and I used to be routinely kicked out of college. For months, my spirits had been buoyed with love from my group and household. But I’d additionally been buoyed by the mental stimulation of college, by studying and protecting my thoughts energetic, and pursuing my dream of changing into a credentialed well being coach.
I acquired offended. I had lastly gained my attraction towards the insurance coverage firm, and now most cancers was coming to remove my training. “You cannot have my mind, too,” I instructed most cancers, and I filed an attraction on the college.
The dean and administration within the graduate research program couldn’t work out why I needed to remain. “Why not just take some time to focus on regaining your health?” they requested. But I didn’t know if I ever would regain my well being, and I needed to spend no matter time I had left pursuing my dream.
I understood why folks stop — however I used to be not going to. I might by no means stop.
The college relented, telling me, “OK, Ms. Byrd. We’ve never seen anyone fight this hard.” I used to be allowed to retake my semester. But they warned me: Financial support wouldn’t cowl it, and if I failed, I used to be out for good. I assured them I had fought so many battles, I may deal with another.
Every week later, I went to the hospital for my scheduled full physique scan.
The scan discovered no proof of illness.
Fighting each step of the best way, I’d overwhelmed stage 4 breast most cancers.
I returned to high school. I acquired an A+ in my retaken courses. I graduated with an government MBA and a grasp’s diploma in kinesiology, the one scholar in my class to graduate with two levels.
Now, when folks ask me how I did it, I inform all of them the teachings I discovered in life previous to my most cancers prognosis had been getting ready me for a warfare I by no means thought I’d should enter. The most necessary lesson was this: Keep combating. Even when it looks like you gained’t win — particularly when it looks like you gained’t win — combat anyway.
This useful resource is created with help from Merck & Sanofi.