In honour of breast cancer awareness month, this series will highlight stories of strong women in the community who have won their battle with this life-changing illness. Keffie Ann Duncombe from the Bahamas shares her unique journey with us; how she is and has been coping, and what messages she has to share. This is her story.
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed on April 17th 2015, I was 44 yrs. old.
What stage were you diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with stage 2A.
How the cancer was initially detected?
The cancer was detected through a routine mammogram.
How did you feel when you got the news?
Initially,I was afraid then lost for words. I had a moment of I cannot believe this.
Is there a family History of breast cancer?
Yes there is. I lost my mom to breast cancer in 2014.
Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?
Yes I had a very strong support system, my husband and children were very supportive. So were my sisters and my brother. Also some very close friends who took care of my children while was being treated. My doctor, in Florida, Dr. Dandamdi was amazing throughout the treatment.
Tell me about your treatment process.
My treatment process went well. Dr. Douglass Reinten in Tampa, Florida performed the surgery that lasted over 12 hours. He did a double mastectomy. Then a plastic surgeon also performed breast reconstruction and tram flap, also known as a tummy tuck. The process after the surgery was very difficult. My husband bought me back home to Nassau where the doctors told me to take some time to heal. At about four weeks after the surgery, we travelled back to Tampa to have another surgery. This third surgery was to put the port in and to have the first round of chemotherapy. We travelled to Tampa every 21 days for the next six months. My last chemotherapy was September 22, 2015. The care and the treatment I received in Tampa Florida were excellent. I had no worries about my medications and doctors. The nurses were professional and very caring. I received a shot of Neulasta after every chemo session. This shot was essential and decreased the chances of getting an infection by 99%. I am still being watch closely by the doctors in Tampa by sending bloods work up every three months and a physical check up every six months. My next visit is December 4th, 2016.
Were there any programmes or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process? Yes there was. At the Cancer Specialist Centre in Florida we had to attend cancer classes. These classes prepared us for the journey of chemotherapy. They told us how to prepare our foods, what to use to clean your tongue to avoid sores. One thing that stood out to me is the fact that they told us to take charge of our sickness. They reminded us that we are in control of our minds bodies and souls and that having a good attitude that will help. And for me, I took charge of my sickness by shaving my head before my hair fell out. Watching it all fall out, little by little would have been too painful for me. They also had a programme where a church group made crochet head huggers for us. You know your head goes completely bald and the head huggers keep your head warm and covered. They also had a program where you can choose wigs and use make up just to cheer us up on the days we got low.
Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so how did you overcome these obstacles?
Yes I faced some obstacles. The first one was I was unable to go out because I got tired quickly. But after a while you get to learn your body and with each treatment it got better. I also experienced really bad bone pain. It was just awful. And my feet were swollen as well.
What message would you would you like to provide women in the community?
I would like to tell all women in our community that early detection saves lives. Get regular checkup if a history in your family. Do routine breast exams at home and cancel the curse of cancer over your children and the generations to come.