In December 1989, I was a busy working mother with 3 children. My daughter was a freshman in college, my middle son was a freshman in high school, and my youngest son was only a first grader. I juggled my job as a cosmetologist with my children, their various activities, and home life. I was working hard but life was good.
I went to bed one December evening and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I awoke to find a woman standing at the foot of my bed. She communicated the following to me, "Check under your arm. You have a lump there and you need to go to a doctor." I thought that this was a strange dream, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, I recalled the dream and felt under my armpit. Sure enough, there was a lump underneath my left arm. Within a few days, I was in my doctor's office, who diagnosed me with "cat scratch fever" and put me on antibiotics. I had a nagging feeling that this lump was something much more serious than "cat scratch fever," but I hoped for the best.
Two weeks later, the lump was still there and the antibiotics had done nothing to improve it. At this point, my doctor recommended surgery to remove it. By now, I began to fear the worst. I remembered the woman (who I now believe was my guardian angel) at the foot of my bed, and the urgency of her message.
When I awoke from surgery, my worst fears were confirmed... CANCER. My local doctor could not guess what type of cancer it was. I was warned that the affected lymph node was a secondary metastic site and the cancer was somewhere else in my body. They could find no lumps in my breasts, and did not believe it to be breast cancer.
Recognizing that I needed expert attention, I immediately got a referral to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. There, I learned that I had Stage II Breast Cancer. I was given three rounds of FAC chemotherapy followed by surgery. At that point they found two more affected lymph nodes, and gave me 3 more rounds of FAC chemotherapy followed by 4 rounds of another chemotherapy. I experienced all of the negative side effects of chemotherapy, including total hair loss.
Back in 1989, given that the cancer had metastasized, I was told my condition was grave. I believed that I was going to die, and I nearly did. Yet, I was spared.
I tell my story for a reason. I want all women to recognize that breast self-exams should include a thorough exam of the armpit area. The primary site of my breast cancer was so small that it could barely be detected on a mammogram. It was too small to be felt in my breast, yet it had spread beyond the breast to affect 3 lymph nodes. This is more common than one might think. I urge all women to include a thorough check of their armpits with their monthly self-breast examinations. This is a practice that is rarely stressed in breast exam instruction.
This is my angel story. My angel came to me to tell me to check under my arms, and I believe that she saved my life. I am passing the word on.
When one faces death head-on, you seek out meaning in life. On the anniversary of my 5 year cancer survival, I decided that I was going to start living again. It was a huge turning point in my life. It was then, with the help of my daughter, that I founded Headcovers Unlimited. I believe I was spared so that I might offer hope to others. I believe it is my purpose to help other women who are living with hair loss. I am uniquely qualified... I have been there. This is my small contribution to humanity; if I can help another woman in some small way, then my angel did not save me in vain.
As I write this, I am a 12 year survivor of Stage II breast cancer. I want women who are beginning their journey to know that there is hope.