1. What is your name, age, and background?
Brenda Burkett, 64 year old mother of 5 daughters and grandmother to 18 grandchildren
2. When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed at age 63.
3. What stage were you diagnosed with?
I was stage 2 when diagnosed.
4. How was the cancer initially detected? (i.e. through a BSE, a CBE or an annual mammogram)
I felt it in October 2015, but son in-law Tra had stage 4 synovial sarcoma and his daughter Paige, age 7, had Chordoma, a cancerous tumor in her neck wrapping around her spinal cord. So I just dismissed it. We had too much going on. We were watching their twin girls that were 2 years old and there was just not time to worry or put anything else on our plate…so I didn’t tell my husband, Jimmy, or my girls. I waited for my yearly exam April 7, 2016. She listened to me and let me cry about all the family illness….. and then she said, “You have a lump…” I replied with “Oh yeah, I know.” (Funny how you put some things out of your mind if you don’t want to deal with them…) The next words out of her mouth were “When do you have your mammogram scheduled?” On April 14 I had my first biopsy and got the phone call at 4:45p on April 19, 2016…it was cancer.
5. How did you feel when you first received the news?
How about the Twilight Zone?! Like this can’t be happening to me; I have too much on my plate. I also knew I had to suck it up because to many people were depending on me. Tra’s wife, my daughter Jacque, was having really bad seizures and also had two surgeries at MD Anderson for melanoma… And Paige was being scheduled to have her surgery at MD Anderson (and it was a 13-hour surgery)… There wasn’t time for me. So I put my surgery off until August 17, 2016. I had a double mastectomy.
6. Is there a family history of breast cancer?
Yes, my aunts on both sides of the family.
7. Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?
We are a very close family. We stand together through everything. And I also kept looking at my son-in-law and thinking that things could be a lot worse, so don’t you dare complain…suck it up.
8. Tell me about your treatment process.
Since I opted to have the double mastectomy I didn’t go through radiation or chemotherapy. I still go to an oncologist and I am on medication for the next 5 years that eliminates all hormones. The “hot flashes” have been rough, but I know one day I will have made it to the other side – can’t wait!
I am a strong believer in CBD and Cannabis Oil instead of taking pain pills.
9. Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
I had my surgery at The Stephenson Cancer Center and they offer several programs including counseling, nutrition, and physical therapy. My recovery was easier than I had imagined it would be and I am sure it is because I had been working out for years with Haley.
10. Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
I don’t think I ran into any obstacles. I knew I wanted to do a double mastectomy and the doctors agreed with me. I think that was the one thing I worried about as to whether I was going to have to convince them to proceed with what I wanted.
11. What message would you like to provide women in the community?
It is okay to be scared, to cry and throw something…believe me, you aren’t crazy! It is a road that you will travel alone – even with a strong family support system like I had – it is still your own personal journey.
One more thing: if you don’t like your doctor or their personnel, change doctors!!! During all my families medical issues that is one thing we have learned. You don’t have to stick to one doctor if you don’t like them. You are going to be dealing with them for a long time and you need to feel comfortable and feel like they really care about you and how you are dealing with everything. You don’t want to feel weird crying with them or that they are in a hurry and you are wasting their time.
12. How does health and fitness play a role in your life today?
I just love feeling healthy and fit. It has taken me longer than I thought it would to be consistent at showing up at the gym, but this last week I told my husband that I was finally feeling like I was getting back to where I was before I got hit with the big “C” word!