AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – October 1 kicks off Breast Cancer Awareness Month and NewsChannel 6 looked at how one woman is choosing to live after her story of survival.
“It means life to me. It definitely means life,” said Monique Braswell, after a 2013 breast cancer diagnosis.
When most women entering their 50s are preparing to send kids off to college or welcome grandchildren, Monique Braswell was preparing for a double mastectomy.
“By not doing self-exams and things of that nature they found lumps in both of my breasts so I lost both breasts,” she shared with us.
The mother and community activist told NewsChannel 6 her life changed and the hopes and dreams she had were put on hold. And to make matters worse, her first October freaked her out.
“Everything went pink on me,” she recalled. “I went into a deep depression. I was really on a suicide basis. I was on some suicide stuff and then I remembered my children.”
Braswell, a mother of four who is recently divorced, underwent about 20 surgeries and she said life without her breasts was different. But Georgia Cancer Center’s newest Breast Surgical Oncologist tells us there are options.
“When patients hear they have breast cancer they immediately think they have to have a double or bilateral mastectomy and that’s not the case,” Dr. Alicia Vinyard told us. “What I try to encourage and teach my patients and others is that lumpectomy with radiation is the same survival as mastectomy alone.”
Dr. Vinyard, who is a breast cancer survivor too, sees around a 99 percent survival rate if the breast cancer is caught early. So, that means self-exams are key and for some it has to happen before the standard mammogram at 40.
“It’s going to normally be something that’s firm and doesn’t seem to move around with the tissue and it’s a change,” Dr. Vinyard said adding that people should choose one day in the month to perform a self-examination each month.
The change Dr. Vinyard is talking about watching for is one Braswell said she never found because it wasn’t hereditary, so she never checked.
“It first started with my throat cancer. That’s where I first was diagnosed with cancer, it was in my throat and then through my breast and has taken on to other places. This was the biggest thing because I was losing something,” said Braswell, who is still dealing with the fact that she no longer has what she was born with. “I thought I had the perfect set. And I think that’s why when I lost them and I realized I really lost them and I look at my scars and all the surgeries and the tools I realized I wasn’t perfect.”
With her newfound life, she inspires other breast cancer survivors by sponsoring an annual boat tour for them on the Savannah River, showering them with gifts.
“I came up with a program called Pretty in Pink where I wanted women to celebrate their life,” she explained, adding that she sells tickets and then purchases gifts to the survivors liking. “Unless you walk in our shoes, you will absolutely never know what we feel like.”
Braswell said the boat tour honors five survivors and includes dinner with their families. It will be held October 6.