By Lakhram Bhagirat
Cancer is a word no one wants to hear from their doctor. For many, the word itself is strong enough to drive fear in the strongest of people. So when Andrea Tucker’s doctor informed her that she had the dreaded “C-word” all she could have done was look to the heavens and place her faith in God.
“I knew something was going to happen before I got my results. I was kinda expecting them to say cancer, but another part of me was doubtful because they would have done all these tests here in Guyana. When they told me that I have cancer, I said okay. I was shocked and I looked towards the sky and saying that God has the final say. I asked what stage, but they told me they have to do more tests. After they tested me and said they felt a lump and it was the first time I heard lumps after so many years of going to doctor and so on. It was then I broke down,” she remembered.
Andrea Tucker is the epitome of a strong woman, but to understand her current cancer-free status you would have to first understand her journey.
For years, Andrea has been visiting doctor after doctor at various hospitals for them to explain why her breasts were bleeding.
“I had a condition for like four years where the breast was bleeding and I kept going to different doctors and hospitals, and they could not find the cause. I was told that it’s ductal papilloma. They didn’t give me any treatment, because the doctors said it could die away and if it persists, then I could do a minor surgery where they will make an incision to remove the tumour and stop the bleeding ,but treatment won’t carry it away. It would stop and start back ever so often and it eventually started to pain and I had to be taking painkillers, but it was no cancer diagnosis,” she explained.
An intraductal papilloma is a small, benign tumour that forms in a milk duct in the breast. These tumours are made of gland and fibrous tissue as well as blood vessels.
The 51-year-old was subjected to a number of mammograms, biopsies and ultrasounds, but not once was the word cancer mentioned. However, in April of 2017, she visited the United States of America and decided to get herself checked out again.
When she went to the hospital in New York, after numerous tests, she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
“When I got the news, it was me and the two doctors and they asked me if it was me alone, but I told them I had a navigator. They said to call my navigator and I did. I felt that she knew what the results were, but she did not tell me because she was not the doctor, but she was there when they took my coat, asked me about how the weather was and so on. After they did all of that, then they told me that I had cancer.”
June 1, 2017, Andrea has a mastectomy which was followed by a rigid five months of chemotherapy, a small break and then five weeks of intense radiation therapy.
“It was a hard journey, but I was determined to not allow it to get me down. I felt weak, drained, sick, ugly. I pushed myself to ignore the feeling. I cried yes, but I always got up and made the best of what little strength I had in my body. Two occasions I had to reschedule my treatment, because my body was so down. Don’t let the feelings get to you. Don’t allow cancer to get over you. There is hope and a lot of it too.
“I started occupying my time with things and took up crocheting and I am now sharpening my craft. When I felt weak, drained and could not sleep, I would get up and start crocheting until I felt good enough. Sometimes, the treatment would cause you to have mood swings and it is constant. I had to learn to work around it and navigate around it,” she recalled.
When Andrea returned home, she made a vow to ensure that more awareness is centred on the stigma of having cancer. She is hoping that her story can inspire more people around Guyana so that the conversation can move away from just one month of the year to the entire year. She is urging everyone to take care of their health and ensure they have regular check-ups because early detection saves lives.
Someone once wrote, “If you see those little pink ribbons on sale within a store, please take the time to buy one and say ‘breast cancer no more’, in loving memory of women gone and those suffering today. All the women of our future, may a cure be found. We pray.”