There was a palpable sense of strength and solidarity at the launch of the Massy Stores/Yoplait Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. An intimate gathering looked on as representatives of Faces of Cancer St Lucia, the Ministry of Health, and other key sponsors made special presentations. The emotion packed speeches were compelling, but it was the words of Massy Stores’ Martin Dorville that would serve as the theme for the night: “Women didn’t need breast cancer to prove they were strong.”
The event was held in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the featured speaker at the occasion, Cheryl Francis agreed wholeheartedly with the Managing Director’s pronouncement. As part of the event, Cheryl, one of the handful of survivors who attended, told where her story began.
“I have always been a very positive person so when I was faced with the reality of having breast cancer, at the time I was a health freak,” she started. “I ate well, I exercised quite a bit, so… at that point you would ask yourself, why? What could have caused it? It didn’t take long before I said you know what, this is it. I’m going to deal with it, and deal with it very quickly.”
Cheryl reflected on her journey from the moment she “felt a lump” in 2012, rushing to the doctor for a check up, only to be told is was not malignant. Nearly two years after that, the growing lump remained a concern so she returned to her doctor for a second check up.
“I went to the same doctor… when he came back, just by the concern on his face I said, ‘okay, what’s wrong?’ Then he said, ‘it doesn’t look nice, we need to do a biopsy.’ We did that straight away. A couple days after the results came back. I was diagnosed in May, 2014 with invasive, ductal carcinoma.”
Immediately following her diagnosis, Cheryl flew over to Canada, where some of her family lived to start treatment.
“I must say, I felt truly blessed just knowing that every single thing would have been alright,” she said. “I was just always positive that I was going to get this done. I have two beautiful children; a young lady, 17, and a young man, nine years of age this year. I was absolutely determined that I was coming back to see my children, so death was not an option.”
With her family’s future as her driving force, Cheryl says she took things head on.
“I looked at everything as being positive, including doing chemo,” she said. “I looked forward to chemo because it was a means to an end. Honestly, I didn’t even feel sick from chemo… sorry, those of you who probably went through a terrible time with chemo, I don’t mean to belittle what we go through, but for me it was a means to an end. I looked forward to the day after chemo to just know that I would start to rebuild all of those cells again.”
Cheryl recalled taking even the not so pleasant consequence of losing her hair after chemotherapy in stride.
“When I lost my hair, I remember my sister came to visit me, and when the hair was just coming out, and coming out, and coming out, we were just laughing, and laughing, and laughing, because for me it was oh my God… I’m going to see a baldhead. Yes, there’s this scary bit, but I think I just tried to look at it so positively that it was a big joke. I knew that if it wasn’t for cancer or something like that, I would have never seen myself with a bald head.”
As part of her treatment, Cheryl underwent four cycles of chemo for three months, and another 12 cycles, for another three months.
“Then I went through radiation, and all of that good stuff,” she said. “But there’s so much good that came out of it.”
Today, Cheryl feels that her entire family has been made stronger because of her ordeal.
“My daughter, only when I came back she explained to me that she excelled in her final year at secondary school while I did treatment,” she shared. “She said to me, ‘mommy, you know I did that just for you… I just didn’t want you to worry about anything, and I wanted every day on our Skype calls, for you to be happy about what we did.’ So every day there was just a good story to tell, and it just kept me happy.”
In the words of the cancer survivor, it was the unwavering love of family and friends through her experience that kept her going. As she shared her testimony with all in attendance, she spoke too of how hard it had been for her to give up her own independence.
“I was a control freak,” she said. “I always had to plan my life. But when this hits you in the face you realize you have to let it go, and have faith, and know it’s going to be okay. You cannot control everything, and so I had to let it go, and trust others. I had to allow people to do things for me… but all of this has made me such a strong person, so that journey from being in a position of feeling so vulnerable, to a stage of being courageous, and then extremely strong, is how I feel now.”
Before leaving the podium, Cheryl made a point of thanking all the societies who were working assiduously to support and raise funds for treatment on behalf of cancer patients on the island.
“It can hit any one of us,” she said. “I would urge each and every one of us to reach out to someone who is going through it, and help them through it. Early detection is the key. If anybody wants to reach out to me, if they need any answers, or any questions they may have, feel free to do so, because after going through this, I would like to know that I can continue to support persons who are going through it.”
As part of fund-raising initiatives organized for this year’s campaign, the Yoplait Walk For Cancer will be held on Sunday, November 6. All proceeds from the campaign will be donated to the National Community Foundation, and Faces of Cancer.