From cancer shock to info sharing
Monday, October 31, 2011. Can you remember –– approaching three years later –– what you were doing then; where you were; who you were with; how you were feeling? Maybe not.
But for Felicia Leacock this date has been deeply engraved in her memory.
On Monday, October 31, 2011, her life as she knew it was changed for ever when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up to that day, the then 34-year-old had never held the notion she could be afflicted by the big C.
Although her aunt Gloria had died from the disease almost 12 months earlier, she never thought a time would come when she would be forced to fight the sickness. But as she solemnly exited her doctor’s office that day, with the dreaded confirmation barely sunk in, Felicia resolved she would indeed take up the battle.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY, as she took breaks between serving her customers at her food stall Brown Sugar’s Kitchen, she recalled how she had started noticing changes in her breasts. They began to have a “sagging”; and there was this dimple, as well as a lump.
“It was a small lump,” Brown Suga, as Felicia is affectionately called, said, trying to speak above the noises of the River Road Van Stand in The City. It was nothing “too threatening”; so she just shrugged it off as the effects of going through “a little something” at that time.
But the symptoms for this mother of four-year-old daughter Nijah would become more conspicuous, and she would be constrained to raise her concerns with her gynaecologist, who found the lump fibrositic –– the fibrous connective tissues in the breast inflamed. Felicia went along with that prognosis for a couple of months; but then the breast continued the sagging on the inside, and the lump grew bigger.
To satisfy her curiosity, Felicia’s doctor referred her for an ultrasound of the breasts, but she didn’t go the same time. In fact, to “spite” the doctor for “not listening” to her previously, she decided to keep the reference letter in her bag and not go at all. That was until one day, while out with a girlfriend, when the former Grantley Adams Memorial student came across a pamphlet on breast cancer.
On it was what appeared to be an identical image of her breasts.
“That is when I decided to get serious about this. I contacted the [Barbados] Cancer Society, I had an interview, and they decided I would be given an examination. But they said I was too young to have a mammogram. After [the doctor] examined me, she said she was feeling more than one lump in my breast, and that was why the doctor gave me a fibrositic assessment. After speaking to a senior doctor the same day, they agreed to let me do the mammogram,” she said.
The mammogram was done, but it showed no lump. Nevertheless, Felicia was advised to get a breast ultrasound. With the initial reference letter still in her bag she went straight away to have it done. Given the dreadful results, she was referred to Shekinah Medical Centre for further assessment.
The battle with the scourge went head to head when the St Joseph resident decided to undergo surgery, since there was a possibility more than one breast patch was damaged, and an even greater possibility her breast could be amputated.
“That was a moment that I wouldn’t even like my worst enemy to face . . . . My thoughts and everything just went blank. Hearing something like that as a young mother, anybody would figure their life was over.
“So it was kind of hard; but, as time went on, I tried to focus on acceptance because it had already happened. It is not like I could turn back the clock. My whole issue was acceptance and that is what helped me to move forward. Believing it could be better and not worse for me –– that was the better part of it.
“[The doctor] told me if we go in and both patches bad, we got to take the breast. I told him if there was a toss-up between saving my life or my breast, save my life, because I have my child to raise. I said if you need to take the breast, take the breast because I could always get back one,” she recounted as she snickered.
Felicia underwent surgery on November 17. Usually doctors cut the breast twice: to check for malignancy, and then again if something is found. But the young mother determined there would be only one operation. She was resolute the doctors do the surgery, take the tissue, send it off to the lab all while she was on the table –– even though she was warned that by doing it this way she would only know the results when she awoke from the anaesthesia.
The operation began at noon; and by about eight that evening she had awoken.
“I got up and started touching my chest to see if the breast was still there,” Felicia said, laughing and motioning her action of that night. “I thanked God for small mercies because it could have been worse. I knew it couldn’t have been that bad if he didn’t take the breast.”
Doctors said only one patch of the area was bad, but samples of her lymph nodes were sent overseas to see if the cancer had spread. Luckily it hadn’t. Leacock’s ailment was diagnosed as stage two breast cancer –– endocrine receptor, which meant that the cancer could be controlled by a drug, but this following chemo treatment.
March, 2012, was the commencement of her six cycles of chemotherapy; and they came to a finish one day after her 36th birthday on August 29, 2013.
In 2013 this outspoken woman held her first Breast Cancer Awareness Walk. She hosted another earlier this year also. She told Barbados TODAY she didn’t know how it happened, but she found herself wanting to inform others about the disease.
Felicia said that much like she thought, many other women were of the opinion that because they were young they could no be affected by breast cancer. And, she felt it her duty to let them know they were wrong, and that she was a perfect example of their ignorance.
The attractive businesswoman said: “Going through something like that, and knowing my lifestyle, it made me look at life so differently. Like in the blink of an eye, life could just be gone . . . . I could be dead and buried, because I actually ignored my signs at first. I am real thankful for my life.
“When I decided I was going to do the walk, a lot of people didn’t know I was sick. I still used to go out and do my thing like nothing happened. In March when the flyer came out for the walk is when everyone started messaging me a lot of foolishness. The ignorance of women especially [to the disease] urged me to want to spread information about it.
“I started to post blogs on my Facebook media page, telling people about it. I deleted my old page and started a new one dedicated as an advocate to reach out to people. People that I met on my journey started to be closer to me than some people in my life before. Some of them . . . from the time my party days stop, their friendship stop.
“People that came into my life proved more positive to me than them that gone and I ain’t even miss. I pray that a lot of them just wake up to life.
“People gave me support. I realize it begins with love, and you got to give a little love to get it. I found that through my sickness I still offered love to people and it came back. Going through it was for a purpose; my purpose was to share with people and not to keep to myself. Sharing was the purpose,” Felicia said.