The love for her family, her faith and the inner strength to keep living for her three children has made Michelle Robinson relentless in her fight against breast cancer, a diagnosis she received a year ago.
The 36-year-old educator said that she knew something was wrong when she started to feel pain in her left breast, which she ignored at first; however, the pain persisted.
“It was on Mothers’ Day and I was with my eldest son. We were watching a movie and I felt the aches,” she related during an outside broadcast of Nationwide Radio’s ‘Miss Kitty Live’ from the #JNPowerofPink think tank session, ‘Beyond Breast Cancer: Stories of Survival’.
She said that on further self-examination, her fears were confirmed.
“Later on, I decided to squeeze it, and I saw this brownish discharge emerging from one of my nipples. It was a shock for me. I held my son and started to cry.”
However, it was after visiting her doctor and doing an X-ray that she received the formal diagnosis. She had stage-two breast cancer. That meant the cancer was growing and had extended to the nearby lymph nodes.
“I was devastated by the news, but, at the same time, because I know how God works, I decided to ‘take it to the Lord in prayer’ and that has been my mantra since the diagnosis,” she related.
She broke the news about her illness to her family members, who were downcast, and she realised that she had to be strong for them as well.
“The diagnosis was like a curve ball, but I was determined to keep batting,” she said.
Robinson immediately commenced her treatment, which involved surgery to remove the left breast and chemotherapy nine months later.
CHALLENGES WITH CHEMO
She said the chemotherapy resulted in her constantly feeling nauseous; loss of her eyelashes, hair, loose bowels, discoloured nails, and it left a metallic taste in her mouth. So far, she has done 16 chemotherapy sessions and hopes that at her next doctor’s visit she will not have to do any more treatment.
However, the diagnosis forced her to change her lifestyle. An introvert by nature, whose life simply involved going to work and back to home, Michelle decided that she would start enjoying life; therefore, she began to participate in activities which she enjoyed.
“I found a new lease on life.Occasionally, I would go out and play pool, and I started to look at life totally different. Now, I am more comfortable and at peace,” she said.
The loss of her hair was the other side effect of the cancer treatment that she had to embrace. She opted not to wear a wig and accepted her baldness. That decision not only motivated her, but encouraged other women affected by the disease.
Michelle was also forced to change her diet. As a result, she reduced her sugar intake; increased eating fruits and vegetables; as well as eliminated red meat, processed foods and alcohol.
FAMILY AND FAITH KEEP ME GOING
“It was life-changing,” she related, “One had to make so many changes, and it was not for one month or two months, but for a lifetime, and the change was immediate.”
But for Michelle, her journey has been bearable because of her Christian faith and the strong support from her family members, who she describes as her “shelter in the time of storm.” She highlighted the close bond with her mother, Catherine Knight, who kept her persevering.
“We now appreciate each other so much more. The thing is that, we don’t know how long we will have with each other, therefore, one needs to embrace every moment you have together. Tell them you love them and hug them,” she said.
“When you are faced with so many challenges being diagnosed with cancer, if you don’t have that support, it will make you give up easily. But, when you have support, it will make you press on,” she informed.
On learning about her daughter’s illness, Knight said she was shocked. But, as the shock wore off, she supported her daughter, who is the last of her four children.
Last year, 974 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Jamaica. Data from the Jamaica Cancer Society also revealed that approximately 60 per cent of breast cancer cases diagnosed in Jamaica are among women between the ages of 25 and 59 years.
Beyond Breast Cancer: Survival Stories was the third in a three-part series of conversations about breast cancer under The Jamaica National Group’s #JNPowerofPink campaign to raise awareness about the disease and educate people about the need for early detection and treatment.