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I’m a survivor

by Sherie Holder-Olutayo

I’m a survivor

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A year ago, Janielle Blenman’s life was like that of any ambitious 24-year-old’s.
She was working full-time, studying at the University of the West Indies, enjoying being married and looking forward to a promotion.
Then last June, life changed for her. One day while doing a routine breast exam, she found a lump in her right breast.
“At first I was scared, but I really didn’t think anything of it because I figured I’m 24; it’s probably nothing,” Janielle said. “When I went to the doctor, along with the ultrasound technician, he thought it was just a cyst. I was told to watch it for six months.”
During that time Janielle went about life as usual, though in the back of her mind her concern was mounting.
“When I went back to the doctor after the six months, that was when I found out the lump was cancerous,” she said. When the doctor told me the news I was numb. The first set of tears came when the doctor said chemo.”
Janielle was alone at the time, because the doctor’s office had called her at work and told her they had the results and needed to speak with her.
“I told my boss and I borrowed a company car because I figured I would just go and come back,” she recalled. “When I called my husband to tell him the news, I could hardly get the words out, I was so upset. He was equally upset.
“ . . . My cancer was relatively aggressive because of the amount of growth that took place within that short space of time.”
Janielle was disagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which means that the offending tumour is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative.
The only positive side to this type of breast cancer is that it typically responds to chemotherapy.
Depending on the stage of its diagnosis, triple negative breast cancer can be particularly aggressive and more likely to recur than other subtypes of breast cancer.
After changing doctors, Janielle decided to undergo chemotherapy first.
“My doctor recommended chemo first to see how the cancer responded before we did the mastectomy,” Janielle said. “If I did the surgery before I would have to go through everything, chemotherapy and radiation. My chemo regime was a little more rigid and I went through eight weeks of that and then had the surgery. Thankfully they got everything and the cancer hadn’t spread.”
Janielle admits that telling her mother and extended family was difficult, and it was faith in God that carried her through those moments.
“Yes, I did a lot of crying initially but I believe God is in control,” she said. “I didn’t get angry with God, I didn’t even ask Him to heal me . . . . Somehow I felt there was a purpose in all of it.”
Janelle also credited the support of her husband and extended family.
“He and my aunt would go with me to get the chemo,” she said. “My husband was great through all of this, though at times I know he felt helpless because there was nothing he could do.”
During the course of the chemotherapy Janelle lost her hair.
“I lost all but three strands or so. I remember one day after the surgery just standing and looking in the mirror at my bald head and the scar on my chest,” she said reflecting on that moment. “Seeing yourself like that is actually harder . . . . That’s when reality really sets in.
“I was planning my life . . . . Now that’s all changed.”
Though she has been cancer-free, this past June, Janielle removed her other breast.
“I did it out of prevention in a sense because my cancer is triple negative and there’s no medication or anything that I can take,” says Janielle. “It was a recommendation and not a compulsory action; but I took it.”
While Janielle admits that so much of her life has changed because of her cancer, she hopes her story will bring a level of awareness to the plight of other young women like herself who are being stricken with this very aggressive type of disease.
“This is becoming more and more prevalent in black women and I just want to raise awareness. It wasn’t until I had cancer that I even found out that my mother’s sister had breast cancer.
“My mother didn’t even know that her sister had it, because they didn’t grow up together. So it’s important that families talk about their history. I find they look at it as being taboo; and not knowing is putting other females in the family at risk.
“If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have waited for the six months.”