‘Why me? Why not someone else?’
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Oct 15, 2013
It was just three months ago that Abagail Ingraham was so distraught that she asked the question, “Why me?” She questioned why she had to be diagnosed with breast cancer and not someone else. She became panicked, depressed… she said she felt alone. The one bright spot for her, the cancer was caught at the earliest possible stage during her annual mammogram.
Stiffening her resolve, the 49-year-old came to the decision that she wanted the best possible chance to see another 49 years and opted for a bilateral mastectomy. A little over a month after her diagnosis, Ingraham had surgery to have both of her breasts removed.
“I did not want to take any chances with it (cancer) going over into the right breast, and I had fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts. So I have always had to watch my breasts and get my mammogram every year, so I wasn’t taking any chances,” she said. “Also, I’d had surgery on the right breast before for one of those lumps in my breasts, and I did not want to go through that anymore. I was like I’m just going to do it, despite them telling me I could just take the lump out. Both breasts were fibrocystic and to my understanding, depending on what type of fibrocystic breasts you have, it could develop into cancer; I wasn’t taking any chances.”
In a recent 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 Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and Dr. John Lunn, medical director at the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative, 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.
Because she’s been diligent about having her mammogram done annually, Ingraham was diagnosed at Stage 1. But if she had not been, the cancer may not have been caught so early. She says she had felt pain in her left breast prior to the diagnosis, but associated with her menstrual cycle.
No matter the stage, she said the diagnosis hit her really hard. She wondered how she would deal with it and whether people would accept her, and how they would look at her.
Ingraham, who does not have children, had to tell her mother, brothers and sisters and close friends about her diagnosis. As she awaits the results of tests that would tell her what combination of drugs she needs to take as far as chemotherapy and radiation, Ingraham is upbeat when she speaks about testing positive for cancer, but she says she has her moments when she’s up and others when she’s down.
The one thing that gets her in a funk is when she thinks about the mounting bills that come with a cancer diagnosis and the resulting surgery.
“Some things that the doctors say to me don’t sink in… it just goes right back out the door as I think about how I’m going to pay these bills, and they’re telling me about all the things I need to have done that are mandatory, and are must-haves, and I’m thinking how am I supposed to pay for them,” she said.
The hotel landscaping department manager is grateful for the group insurance coverage she has with her employer that helps, but which she says is still not sufficient to pay her mounting medical bills, as she has to pay the difference.
As the world observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and as she prepares for doctors to prescribe a cocktail for her, Ingraham says she tries to keep herself upbeat and happy and even make jokes about the whole thing. But she says she has what she describes as her moments when she does not want to be bothered by anyone as she enjoys a good crying session as she prays to God for a word of assurance that everything would be okay.
Ingraham, who has since joined the Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group and come in contact with women who have years of survival under their belt from stages one through four, says she is looking forward to the day when doctors tell her she is fine and that she can put it all behind her. She says her faith in God will pull her through.
“I’m just having a positive mind towards it because of the positive ladies in Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, and their willingness to share and tell me what they’ve been through. It’s given me the strength to know that I can get through,” she said.
While many of the stories she’s heard from the women have stayed with her, she said that one in particular that resonated was from another lady who also had bilateral surgery and the fact that her husband and family stood behind her through it all, while other women found that their husbands left them and their family members couldn’t handle it. She said hearing the story helped her make the decision she did.
Prior to surgery, Ingraham photographed her breasts before she had them removed. She also took photos of herself after surgery. She does not plan to have reconstructive surgery.
“I’m safe with who I am. I still have the one thing that requires me to be a woman, and like my doctor would say, breasts are there for nursing babies, so I’m quite comfortable with it. It’s just that whoever steps to me, say to become my mate, they have to be safe with who I am,” she said.
Journey to becoming a survivor
As she goes through the journey to becoming a survivor, Ingraham advises women to have their mammograms done whether they like it or not or even if they find it painful. Even if they receive a negative result one year, she says they should continue to have the exam done, as it could be the very year that they don’t have it done that the cancer could develop.
She’s had her mammogram done every year like clockwork since she turned 40 because of her fibrocystic breasts.
Ingraham, who has become one of many women diagnosed with breast cancer, says people can show their support to the women and men that battle with breast cancer by supporting the Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, an organization that helps women by purchasing needed medical equipment for women who can’t afford to pay for them themselves.
She says people should not look at people battling breast cancer indifferently. She says they want people to understand, and be there for them even if they don’t understand what they are going through.
“You can be there, and say nothing other than ‘I’m here for you.’ But truly be there for me when I need you rather than just spitting out words to me,” she said.
As she deals with therapy after surgery, Ingraham says she does her best to make other people feel comfortable around her and willingly shows her scars to close friends if they want to see.
“I know I was curious and wondered what it would look like when done, so if people are curious, I let them see,” she said.