Forced to slow down
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Oct 08, 2013
She’s a mother of three, a wife, daughter, sister, the culinary tourism manager at the Ministry of Tourism with responsibility for national team administration and an active member of her church. Literally, her plate was so full that DeAnne Gibson did her best to eke out 28 hours out of a 24-hour day to complete the many daily tasks that consumed her life. And she certainly gave it a herculean effort — that was until the big “C” struck and forced her to slow things down.
When Gibson, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer one year ago, she was shocked. She had not had any ill feelings, nor she did find a lump in her breast to prompt her to go to the doctor. In fact, Gibson’s cancer was found during her regular annual mammogram that she took on October 17, 2012, when doctors discovered an anomaly in her left breast.
On September 11, she had a biopsy done and the result was returned as Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma. Like the true caregiver that she is, her first thoughts were of her husband, Dwight, who would be hit with a double whammy after having just returned home from Florida with his father who had been treated for pancreatic cancer.
“When the doctor said breast cancer, the first thing I thought about was my husband. My heart went out to my husband,” Gibson said. “It wasn’t even about me.”
Four weeks after the date of her diagnosis, she underwent surgery. She opted to remove both breasts.
“I knew that I had no choice [but to remove both breasts],” she said. “I had no lump, so I could not have a lumpectomy. My only option was the mastectomy, and whether I did a unilateral or bilateral [mastectomy]. And by the third round of investigations of trying to make sure exactly what my diagnosis was, I was tired of having mammograms, without a doubt I was having a bilateral mastectomy.”
Gibson had a double mastectomy on October 17. But she said it was not an easy decision to make.
“I won’t say I had a love affair with [my breasts], but I was quite pleased with what God had given me, and so it was quite a decision to make, but I really had no option. My only option was to live. I want to see my grandchildren, and possibly to be like my mother, Rosamund Williams, and to see generations,” she said.
Gibson, who for as long as she lives will now be known as a survivor, is just days away from the one-year anniversary of her surgery, and halfway through her reconstruction process which she will complete at the end of October.
Gibson has now become one of the statistics that show that one in four women with breast cancer in The Bahamas carries a hereditary mutation, according to information from the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative Foundation (BBCIF) from a study that involved Dr. Judith Hurley, a breast cancer specialist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Dr. Theodore Turnquest of the Oncology Center at the PMH and Dr. John Lunn, medical director at the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative.
The research has shown that 48 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas are under the age of 50; 20 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas are under the age of 40.
According to research, 42 is the average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas and 44 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas present with late stage 3 or late stage 4 breast cancer.
Cancer is not new to Gibson’s family; she had both a paternal and maternal aunt diagnosed with the disease. Telling her children, Deon, 25; Daniel, 16, and Daria, 14, that she was diagnosed with the disease, she said, was one of the most difficult things she had to do. She said her daughter, the youngest of the trio, was the strongest, and received the news the best, while her boys fell apart.
“It was difficult because for us in our family, cancer … breast cancer has meant death. And for my children they felt like they were going to lose their mommy,” she recalled. But Gibson reassured her children that she was not going to die and that God had chosen them as a family, and not just their mother, to show people His glory, His strength and that they needed each other to make it through.
A strong believer, Gibson said since her diagnosis, she has made it a point to take time out to just be with God. Actually, she said every year she usually takes a few days off work to commune with God, doing nothing and meditating, and that prior to her diagnosis she recalled that she had not done it for that year as yet, and the year was winding down.
She recalled saying, “Boy, God, the year is almost done, and I have not had any time with you.” When the official result call came she said her reaction was, “God, you ain’t funny.”
Gibson said looking back, she realizes that her diagnosis was God’s way of getting her attention and that afterwards, it became a spiritual journey for me. She said she immediately went into prayer and meditation, confession, cleansing, just trying to make amends, besides getting everything in order knowing that she was going to have surgery.
Importance of education
Her diagnosis also reinforced for her the importance of education.
“You know some stuff from the awareness programs, but there’s nothing like when it hits you, because everyone has their own diagnosis … their stage diagnosis,” she said. “I was hormone negative — these are things you normally would not hear. You hear of stage one, two, three, four … ductal carcinoma, what is that? What is hormone negative? So for me it was an educational thing, educating myself about what was going on with me.”
She said through it all, she found a strength that she did not realize she had.
“Everybody who knows me knows that I can cry… I cried,” she said. “But there has been a strength that I never knew I had, and I can’t explain where it comes from. I knew that it was a test that I had no option but to pass with flying colors because I had too many people (she’s one of six siblings) not just watching me, but praying for me that I felt that I could not just let them or God down.”
Like most cancer survivors, Gibson said her life has definitely changed, and that a lot of her changes are personal in the way she looks at life and her priorities that are God, and family.
“The order of my life is without a doubt, God, even though He was a major factor before. Getting dressed in the mornings, the first thing I do is put on my olive oil and give Him thanks and praise for the day and for health and a lot of things we take for granted. [Then] my family because I came so close to waking up to the possibility of losing them,” she said.
Gibson said her cancer diagnosis and resulting treatment slowed her down in a lot of things she used to do.
“You need to evaluate your life because for me, the superwoman, I would get 28 hours in a regular day because I had a million things to do. That doesn’t happen for me anymore because I just can’t do it, and I had to really put life in balance and perspective. I choose to live a very peaceful life,” she said.
Gibson is preparing to take her PET (Positron emission tomography) scan, something she said she’s nervous about for fear of a bad result.
“It isn’t that I don’t have faith because I know that my faith is what has brought me through, but it’s always, what next? And in talking to other survivors, I think when the day comes and you have to go and do that PET scan, it’s just a nervous place to be,” she said.
Gibson has been named the Denim Day 2013 spokesperson as the world recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month during October. For her, the spokesperson designation means helping people educate themselves about what breast cancer is, increasing the awareness and helping people evaluate.
Days shy of the one year anniversary of her surgery, Gibson said she envisions a promising and exciting future as she helps other people become educated in their journey, as she believes education is a crucial factor to a survivor’s peace of mind. She said the support groups will be there, but that people still need to know what they’re going through.
As a survivor, she said she has also learnt that she needs to be supportive as well.
“I’ve learnt from those around me, particularly the medical professionals, that despite all of the support that I’ve received, most persons are support-less as they go through their journey — that marriages usually fail, children don’t know how to react, so I think for me I just want to be there for whoever I can as best as I can.”
The newly diagnosed and new survivor to join the masses of people who can proudly say they have survived encourages women to get tested and to take their annual mammograms. She says a diagnosis does not have to mean death. And Gibson was even thankful that she’s faithfully had her mammogram done every year since she turned 40, as it was on her third test that she was diagnosed.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 October 2013 15:59|