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Giving back at Cancer Society

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Giving back at Cancer Society

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Every day when Verna Yvonne Adams gets out of bed, one of the first things she does is thank God. She thanks him for life. She thanks him for her family.  She especially thanks him for answering her prayers for 23 years, since 1988, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I prayed to God to let me live to see my sons get through school because I had friends who had cancer and they died, so I just wanted to see my children through school,” she said.
“Yvonne”, as she is commonly known to friends and family, is basking in the leisure of retirement, but feeling privileged that she can call herself a “cancer survivor”. She proudly showed me the pin that she wears on her clothing bearing the words Strength, Honour, Faith, Courage – a badge of honour for the battle she waged and won these 23 years.
At the time of her initial diagnosis, Yvonne was 43, a mother of two boys, 15 and 8, a wife and a nurse at the height of her career.
“In 1987 I had a mammogram, and they said a little area had looked suspicious so I needed to repeat it in six months,” Yvonne said. “But I was always one for self-examination in the bath. I would always check my breasts, especially after a period. So when I checked my breast I felt something the size of a pea, which I did not feel before. I was on duty that afternoon, so I asked one of the doctors to check it and he felt it as well, so I saw the surgeon the next morning.”
That consultation with the surgeon was quickly followed by another mammogram, a needle biopsy and the results, which proved that the lump was indeed cancerous.
“I had the surgery but didn’t have a total mastectomy. I had a wedge mastectomy, where they took out the area and the lymph nodes.
The pathologist said there was no cancer in the lymph nodes,” she said.
While she was happy she acted so quickly with the surgery, as a mother of two young children, Yvonne’s focus was on them.
After she had the surgery and visited with the oncologist, it was recommended that Yvonne had chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“After one dose of chemotherapy, which made me feel awful, I noticed in two days’ time I had a rash on my skin,” she recalled. “The doctor was unsure what caused the rash so he stopped the chemo and gave me tablets. After the tablets I had 25 doses of radiation therapy.”
While her scars may not be visible, she spoke candidly of the recurring swelling in her right arm, a by-product of the removal of her lymph nodes when the lump was removed.
“The hand swelling comes and goes,” she says. “I had to take physiotherapy sometimes to make sure the blood was circulating properly.”
For Yvonne and her family, enduring those months was a testament to her faith in God, her family’s commitment to seeing her through the difficulty and her desire to maintain a positive attitude at all times.
“I told my family I didn’t want to see anybody crying. It was hard on my husband when he heard because I had no family history of the disease,” she said. “If there was any crying, I wanted to be the one to do it when no one was around. But I always knew I was not going to die.”
Whether by sheer force of will or tremendous faith, Yvonne has lived. Added to the value that she places on every day is the desire to help other women avoid becoming victims of the silent invader known as cancer. She even works now with the Barbados Cancer Society, encouraging women to do breast self-exams and get mammograms.
“The Lord has been very good to me. My kids have finished school, they’ve been to university, and I have reached the age of 66 – and my only worry was my kids. I knew my husband could take care of himself. But I thank the Lord every day for giving me the courage and the strength to keep fighting to go on.”