I’m More Than A Breast
Health & Beauty
October 20, 2006

I’m More Than A Breast

She trusted him with her life.

That was not unusual because he was her doctor and if you can’t trust your doctor then who can you trust?

Gloria Williams, 44, had breast cancer but her doctor played it down and twice misdiagnosed her. He gave her some medication and actually said that it would go away.

“Don’t worry about it” was the essence of his reassurance to her.

She was not reassured simply because she was educated on the disease. She understood the risk generally to women and specifically to her because two of her sisters already had breast cancer. {{more}}

She understood the cost of the disease not just in money but in psychological trauma. She didn’t want to face that and so she took no chances -even though the medical literature said that women 50 years and older were most at risk.

She took control of her own health and if she had not, perhaps she’d be dead today.

It was July 2004 that she did her usual mammogram and all was well. Two months later she discovered a lump in her left breast during a self-examination.

“I was watching a health program on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) and the doctor was speaking about cancer so I just decided to do a breast examination right there and when I did it I felt the lump” she told SEARCHLIGHT HEALTH.

That was in September 2004.

She went back to her doctor who did an ultra sound and was told that the lump was not cancerous.

“He gave me some ‘building up’ medication and told me that the lump will be gone in six months.”

The medication prescribed was flax seed oil and multi-vitamins.

She waited three months and the lump was not going anywhere so she went for another mammogram and took the results to another doctor who on seeing it ordered a biopsy.

The result confirmed the fears and her new doctor hit her with the news, straightforward knocking her off her feet like water on a tiled floor – she had breast cancer.

“I was angry at the fact that here was a learnt physician (my first doctor) who did not take time out to go beyond what he was actually seeing. Though he knew my family’s history, he never dug deeper and investigated as he should have given the importance of early detection for a successful fight against the disease,” she told SEARCHLIGHT HEALTH.

All the knowledge she had, all the awareness material she read in the newspaper and in pamphlets never prepared her because that was just academic knowledge but now it was hitting home.

“I cried all day,” she said.

Crying would not cure her but she needed to vent her frustration.

She had to tell her 17-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son that she had the deadly disease.

“My daughter was in college and I didn’t want something like that, so devastating to put a different light on things in terms of her studies” explained Gloria. She found the strength and wisdom needed to tell her daughter and explain to her young son.

“I now know for sure that if someone has cancer and don’t have moral support they will die very quickly. It is really absolutely important to have someone to cry with; some one you could rely upon,” she said of the cancer support groups in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

After surgery to remove her left breast and the first round of chemotherapy Gloria’s pathology report indicated that her lymphatic system was infected. This was devastating because it meant the cancer had gained access to a system in her body that was the equivalent of a four-lane interstate highway. The lymphatic system is a complex network of lymphoid organs, lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and lymph vessels that produce and transport lymph fluid from tissues to the circulatory system. The lymphatic system is a major component of the immune system.

The cancerous cells could therefore spread to other parts of her body.

What does she do next?

One option was radiotherapy in the United States or Canada but she did not have the EC$235,000 to go to North America.

An intervention by Vincentian Minister of Health, Dr Douglas Slater, with his Trindadian counterpart, John Rahael, got her free treatment at Trinidad’s National Radiotherapy Centre at the St James Medical Complex.

Gloria is living her life, enjoying this new lease; soaking up every moment of it. She had her last check up about two weeks ago and all was well and she is thankful.

Sex appeal

We asked her about her adjustment to the changes in her body as a result of her surgery. How does she view herself, her sex appeal; knowing that a breast is now missing. With a smile Gloria declared that she is very comfortable with her sexuality.

While she is not in a relationship currently she told SEARCHLIGHT HEALTH that a real man will see beyond that missing breast and with a mischievous grin stated that he will not be lacking anything with her.

While some have to deal with an amputated limb or the loss of an eye Gloria has accepted that she is without one breast but the fluent Spanish speaker would say to any man: “Soy mas que un pecho” – “I am more than a breast!”

Mal practice

In such a small society as St Vincent and the Grenadines with a population of 110,000 and all commercial and leisure activity concentrated in the capital, Kingstown, everyone knows each other and she was reluctant, though pressed by SEARCHLIGHT HEALTH, to name her doctor. This newspaper wanted to put very specific questions to the man and to the medical authorities but no one is speaking.

Those in the know say off the record that the doctor is a “good man” and this was just a “slip up”.

The clear message from Gloria and other survivors of breast cancer is that while you can and should trust your doctor, you must also proceed with healthy skepticism, questioning the doctor and his diagnoses and educating yourself on the diseases to which you may be at risk and never being afraid to get a second diagnosis.