By Chanda Temple
Break out the pink. Demarish Ruffin-Smith is celebrating a five-year anniversary today.
She found a lump in her right breast on Aug. 6, 2009 and had a double mastectomy 20 days later. She’s been breast cancer free ever since.
“Most of the time, people are estatic to make it to the five-year mark. Depending on what kind of cancer you have, it can come back,” said Demarish, 43 and a married mother of two sons living in Shelby County, Ala. “I just thank God every day for waking me up.”
Though the lump she found in her right breast was cancer that was in the early stage and the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes, she wanted to reduce any chances of the cancer returning. She opted for a double mastectomy.
For Demarish, the decision for a double mastectomy was easy. At the time of the diagnosis, her sons were 4 and 8. She wanted to be around to see them grow up. It was a decision that worked for her. Each woman, she said, has to do what works best for them.
“I know there are many other life-threateing diseases. Some people, unfortunately, will not have my outcome,” she said. “I caught it early because I know my body and lead a healthy lifestyle. My prayer is that no matter what your diagnosis is and what course of action you choose to take, that you become an educated patient.”
“Know your options,” she said. “Decide what’s right for you and put your boxing gloves on every day.”
She offers six breast cancer survivor tips:
Know the signs
Demarish found the lump in August 2009, but signs that something was wrong had surfaced two months prior to that. She just didn’t know it at the time. In June 2009, she noticed that the nipple on her right breast became inverted at times and would then pop back out to its normal position. She said that because she had breastfed in the past, she thought it was a result of that. In July 2009, her right breast started to itch, her nipple was warm to the touch and her right nipple continued to go in and out.
Although she had no history of breast cancer in her family, when she found the lump in August 2009, she knew something was wrong.
Be Honest With Yourself
Demarish had reconstructive surgery after her double mastectomy. Later on, she had areolas tattoed atop her new implants. She skipped adding nipples because she couldn’t stand the pain from any more needles.
She’s fine with the way she looks and so is her husband. But for other women, especially single women, wondering how a man will respond after such a surgery, Demarish said “breasts do not make you.’’
Regardless of scars or implants, breast cancer survivors should see themselves as beautiful and strong.Others should, too, Demarish said.
“If you are with a guy who says you have scars on your breasts or no breasts, that’s not the man for you,’’ she said. “You shouldn’t be defined by a body part.’’
“You can’t go through life proving you are a woman because you are missing a breast,’’ she said. “I think you should stand on the kind of person you are.’’
Have a plan of action on how you’ll handle the news
Demarish always did self-breast examinations in the shower. When she found the lump, she did some research on the internet and contacted her doctor for an appointment. When he confirmed it was cancer, she knew she’d fight the disease.
“It starts in your mind,” Demarish said. “You look for a rainbow and search for a pot of gold, knowing you will find it.”
Dump the negativity
“When you have cancer, you dig into strength you did not know you had,” Demarish said. “You don’t have time to think about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘What if I don’t make it?’
She made a point not to surround herself with people telling pity stories. She only wanted to hear stories of victory. Her family and friends followed her lead and remained positive, too.
“Healing starts in your mind,” Demarish said. “I don’t think you have time for fear. Fear takes away from your faith. If you say you believe in Jesus and He’s a healer, you have to stand on your faith.”
Lean on family and friends
Demarish said her husband, internist Dr. Reggie Smith, and friends were always offering a helping hand, taking the boys to baseball practice, picking them up from school, making meals, offering her rides to the doctor’s office, etc. Her “team,” she said, lifted her spirits.
And if you don’t have a support system or family where you live, turn to co-workers, church members, the community or a support group. “Whomever said they’d be there for you, call them out on it,” Demarish said. “Ask them if they’ll take you to the doctor, do your grocery” shopping, etc.
Start a health routine today
Demarish had her first mammogram at the age of 37 and wasn’t scheduled for her next one until age 39. But she discovered the lump at the age of 38. She said that had she not been doing regular checks, she would have missed the lump and her diagnosis may have been a lot worse by the time she went in for her next mammogram. Early detection and screening are key.
Once she had the surgery and healed, she returned to working out and running five times a week. (She routinely exercised well before she had breast cancer.) She encourages women to stay active, eat healthful foods and maintain regular doctor visits.
Every day, she’s up by 4:30 a.m. to work out in her basement, run through her neighborhood or exercise at the YMCA. She calls it her “me time” before everyone else gets up in her home. She also participates in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Birmingham, Ala.’s Linn Park.
Demarish said that had she not had breast cancer, she would be the same person she was five years ago. That person wasn’t a “bad person,” she’s just better now. “I‘m more thankful. I take time to smell the roses,” she said. “It made me stop and be thankful for my blessings.’’
Upcoming breast cancer events in Birmingham:
- Birmingham support group Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies will host its Sistah Strut on Saturday, Sept. 27 at Legion Field.
- This year’s Race for the Cure in Linn Park will be on Saturday, Oct. 11.
Chanda Temple is a former reporter now working in public relations. She blogs about being better in business and more at http://www.chandatemplewrites.com. Follow her on Twitter at @chandatemple. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.