Wednesday, 11 October 2017 08:40

Two sisters, two diagnoses, one common enemy

Written by  Cassie Fambro
Angela Davis (left) and her sister, Sandra Berry, share more than just a familial bond. Both were diagnosed with breast cancer the same year. Angela Davis (left) and her sister, Sandra Berry, share more than just a familial bond. Both were diagnosed with breast cancer the same year. Cassie Fambro

Both were diagnosed with breast cancer the same year.

Sandra Berry, 53, and her sister, Angela Davis 47, are just a few years apart. They are also just a few miles apart — they’ve stayed close to each other all their lives. They have two other sisters, but the pair has a special bond beyond sisterhood; one that dates back to 2012 when both received news that would change their lives.

Berry was diagnosed with what doctors called an atypia, a finding that can come from an abnormal mammogram. Basically, it means doctors detected a bad bunch of cells that needed to be removed, and meant cancer was a possibility in the future.

It was five years ago this month that Davis took a vacation, and on her way back, she didn’t feel right. Her friends didn’t feel well either, and as a precaution, she went to the doctor for a checkup, fearing she may have caught something on the trip out of the country. “The nurse went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Davis. Her chest had been hurting, so the nurse decided to run extra tests. One of those tests was a scan that revealed she had a mass, about 2.5 centimeters, in her left breast. It was biopsied, and it was cancer.

“I prepared myself,” Davis said of the confirmation of cancer. She had a decision to make, and it came quickly. “I chose a bilateral mastectomy,” she said. “I didn’t have to do radiation or chemo.”

She was prescribed Tamoxifen, a medication that treats hormone receptors to slow or prevent breast cancer. She was to take it for five years.

Berry, even after the atypia was addressed, was not given medication. Just two years later, when she went in for her annual mammogram, a mass was detected in her breast. It turned out to be stage one breast cancer. She went to get a second opinion on her diagnosis, and they discovered a lump in her other breast. Berry said doctors told her she would have to undergo intensive radiation. Instead, she also opted to have a double mastectomy.

“After my surgery I couldn’t raise my arms, there were so many things I couldn’t do for myself,” she said. Reflecting on the tough decision to have a double mastectomy, she said she sometimes misses her breasts. “It is a part of you, but I was saving my life, and one outweighed the other,” she said.

Berry said Davis’ strength to have the procedure also inspired her. “I always wanted a breast reduction,” Davis laughed. “I made a joke about it.”

Davis had intensively researched the consequences of a lumpectomy, and was concerned that if she had the less evasive surgery, cancer would return. Even still, the day before her double mastectomy, a thought stopped her in her tracks.

“I worried, is my husband still going to accept me,” she said. “And we had that conversation and he said ‘I’m not going anywhere, you’re stuck,’ and after that moment I never worried about it.”

For Berry, she relied on her faith to make her decision. “I said if God can take me to it, God can get me through it.”

Berry said that even though a cancer diagnosis may feel isolating, there is a wide network of support out there. “Find a support group, there are ways other women can help you and everyone is there to support you,” she said. She recounted an experience where another breast cancer patient had also undergone a mastectomy and decided to get implants.

“She said I could touch them if I wanted,” Berry laughed, adding that you never know the questions or situations you’ll face until you are in the various moments cancer presents.
Her sister also enjoyed a wide network of support, in particular from her own daycare families. “Parents brought food, we had so much food,” said Davis. “Everyone was there.”

Davis has a 25-year-old daughter who she encourages to do self-breast exams routinely. “We just want her to be safe,” she said.

Davis said her doctor had advised her when she was 36 that she didn’t need to get a mammogram until after 40, but she believes each woman should decide what’s best for them. “Go as early as you can,” Davis said of the advice she would give anyone who feels something could be wrong.

Berry lost a friend to cancer, a woman who said she felt an abnormal lump as early as her late teens. Her friend was told she was too young to have breast cancer, and by the time it was caught, it was too late, and already in stage four.

“Go annually,” Berry advised.

Both women underwent BRCA gene testing because they had relatives with cancer, but the tests came back negative for the gene said to indicate a strong likelihood for cancer. Another reason the sisters say all women should go, even if they are not considered high-risk.

And if a woman learns she has cancer, they want her to know something. “You have to have faith and positivity,” said Davis. “You’re not alone,” added Berry.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Annissa Wallace-Rutland Wednesday, 11 October 2017 11:25 posted by Annissa Wallace-Rutland

    Definitely two strong women indeed.


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