Everyone has been touched or affected by breast cancer in one way or another, and although many have gone through it, no two stories are ever the same. In light of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we spoke to three brave women in this series of interviews to offer insight, comfort, and hope. Meet Letecia who survived it, Margaret who is currently battling it, and Jazreena who has to live with losing a loved one to breast cancer. A humbling reminder that even in the most difficult of times, we are in it together. Here is Margaret Rose Quiogue Subramaniam’s story, as interviewed by her niece, Tengku Zai.
When my aunt told me she’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer, something inside me just sank. This is a woman who’s my other mommy; I call her Mama. We’d just come back from a fun family holiday, and things seemed normal, I hadn’t noticed anything off at all. But, these few months, watching her fight breast cancer has been nothing short of amazing. This is her story so far, and I have no doubt she has many years of stories ahead.
When did you discover that you had breast cancer?
I first discovered that I have a lump under my armpit while taking a shower and felt it on my left underarm. I thought nothing of it, although, I felt it wasn’t right. When I was little, I’d occasionally get tiny lumps under my armpit. So I ignored it. I was feeling fine, working out daily. I assured myself that nothing is wrong.My breasts didn’t hurt; didn’t have lumps. I was 56 when I discovered it, but buried the ghastly thought of having cancer at the back of the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind. Ignorantly, I thought there’s nothing some exercise and a good diet couldn’t cure. So I buried myself in doing intense workouts and journaling my food.
I thought I was invincible. But what was I was actually doing was overwhelming my body with intense workouts, so whatever small pain I began feeling I misconstrued as muscle growth. I was too exhausted to even notice the discomfort in my breast, deviated by what I’d subjected my body to earlier. I knew it was there, I was in denial. Even when I began to notice my left breast had become bigger and harder, with my veins turning purple. It looked engorged and the teat of my nipple had inverted.
Life continues, until one day, when I woke up from a deep slumber. I thought someone had poked nails into my chest. It was painful but short. I’d waited weeks, and it was lies after lies I was telling myself; I assuaged myself with excuses. I can’t ruin the lives of my family, everyone’s daily life will be bogged down and burdened by my sickness, so I thought. Honestly, I could’ve saved us all the trouble and heartache had I been honest and faced my fear.
What made you finally get checked?
My sister-in-law is a doctor, and there’s a famous breast surgeon in the family. I’m a pastor, I hold a master’s degree in biblical theology, and yet I couldn’t fight this fear consuming my soul. Fear had enveloped me. I was in and out of depression, but I handled it so well no one noticed. Excruciating pain came, and slowly intensely increased. What was once a week very quickly became more than once a day. I was not only hurting in the front, now my back was experiencing debilitating pain.
One day, I was giving prayer and counselling to my maid’s son as he was sobbing uncontrollably while talking to his mother and me. That very same moment, as I was praying for him, I had an epiphany. My conscience began accusing me of being a fraud!
This big C stole from me the joy of living. It thrived and fed on my fear and I nurtured it. So I called a fellow pastor and poured my heart out to her. After praying, I felt released from the dark cloud that followed me. This time, the excruciating pain didn’t come with fear, but peace. I was ready to face the truth. I told my daughter about the lump in my underarm, my engorged breast, plus the pain I’d been experiencing. We cried, we prayed, hugged, and she told my husband. The next day, we went to see our family breast surgeon. With her expertise, just by looking at my breast, she already knew and categorised it as stage 4! The breast cancer was aggressive and had metastasised to my liver. The good news was it was treatable.
How has the road to recovery been these last few months?
Life continues, daily as I wake up, I’m hopeful. I know I’m not fighting this alone, my doctors are my relatives, my family is my pillar of strength, God is my source of hope, and all this sustains me daily. Courage is fear smothered in prayer! Prayer produces faith. I have a renewed fighting spirit that’s determined to win.
I’m on my fifth treatment this month amidst this CMCO, and I recently went for an ultrasound for both breasts and liver. I heard the most beautiful and perfect gift that only could come from Almighty God – my metastasised liver that had six lesions is now clear; they just disappeared! My doctor said, “This is not right!” With apprehension, I asked why. She simply said that it’s baffling how there’s nothing there and that lesions don’t simply disappear. As for my breasts, the tiny spots on the right one have cleared too. As for my left breast, most of the lumps have become much, much smaller. Meanwhile, my lymph nodes aren’t spotted anymore either.
Are you part of any support groups?
Currently, I don’t belong to any support group. I’m being discouraged to go out because of the pandemic. I also don’t have the physical strength to go anywhere until I’m finished with my treatment. I don’t mind participating in online forums or support groups, though. In fact, I’m speaking at my sister’s online Bible study group in California to give my testimony, as so many people and prayer groups all over the world have been constantly praying for me. I will look into physical support groups in the future when I’ve completed all my treatments, and this virus is no longer a threat to high-risk individuals like myself.
Any bits of advice? Would you have done anything differently?
My advice is to get tested regularly. If you feel and see something abnormal, or think something that shouldn’t be is there, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. My biggest advice is to get reliable and trusted health insurance. I have one that has helped my family tremendously. Financial constraints can be an added hurdle on the road to health and recovery. Also, your support group is vital. Read and research. You’ll be flooded with unsolicited advice; it comes from a good place, but take your final advice from your doctors. If you can’t trust your doctors, who can you trust? Don’t seek alternative treatments without consulting them too, it may do you more harm than good. The only thing in this ordeal I would have done differently is to have gotten tested immediately instead of waiting. But I have no hand in changing the past. Daily, I celebrate life and have no regrets. I’m not a slave to fear!