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Survivor Stories: Helen Fusilier

As October is breast cancer awareness month, we are continuing our series on people who have beat the disease. See what you can learn from Helen’s story and click here and here to read other stories of survival.

How did you first find out you had cancer?

On Thursday, May 27, 2004, I accidentally (or as my pastor says meant-ci-dently) bumped into my husband in passing. His arm somehow hit my left breast and out of habit, I rubbed the area.  When I did, I noticed a lump.  I then asked him to touch the area and he felt the lump, too.

My appointment was scheduled for that afternoon. As the doctor attempted to do the exam, I moved her hand to the area of the lump and she immediately said, “OK,you can get dressed now”.  As she began telling me what the lump could be I heard the words, “Or it could be breast cancer”.  I thought to myself, “My family history includes heart attacks or strokes, no one has ever had cancer, and neither will I.”  I completely dismissed what she was saying, but heard her mention her staff would make an appointment for me to have a mammogram and ultrasound.

The appointment was scheduled for three weeks later but knew there was no way I was going to worry about this lump for that long. So I took matters into my owns hands and contacted local hospitals to find out when was the soonest I would get in.  By the end of the day I had the appointment scheduled for the following Monday.

On that day, my husband and I went in for the appointment. During the mammogram the technician alluded that she did not see anything, which confirmed my beliefs, that there was no way I could have breast cancer.  Cancer just did not run in my family.   While waiting for the ultrasound, my spirits began to lift until I saw the tech again. I was told that there appeared to be something that looked suspicious. At that point the tears began to fall, it was then, the possibility of breast cancer became real.

During the biopsy about a week later, the doctor told me the course of action she would take should it be cancer.  I told her, “Doc, you won’t have to worry about that, because if you tell me I have cancer, I’ll probably drop dead on the spot.”  I was so oblivious to it being cancer, that when the doctor said,”Well let me go and talk to your husband”, I had no earthly idea she was informing him that she was 99% sure it was cancer. When I walked into the room my husband had been waiting in, his eyes were beet red.  I said what’s wrong, he said, “Bay, just get dressed and let’s go.”  As we walked to the car, “He said, Helen she said she’s 99% sure, it’s cancer”. Again the tears began to fall….

 How did you react when you heard the news?

My immediate reaction was tears, followed by, “How soon can we get this taken out?” After letting out a real good cry, I said, OK God, lets do this……

What course of treatment were you prescribed?

Due to it being stage one, I had a lumpectomy followed by 38 days of radiation.

What most surprised you about your treatment?

I had been informed that radiation therapy does not cause nausea; I beg to differ. During the entire time of receiving treatment, I was nauseated (each person’s body reacts differently).

 What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

Try your best to have a positive attitude, pray, and take an active role in your care.  Don’t sit back and allow healthcare providers and staff to be lackadaisical about your health. Early detection and treatment are Key!

What lesson did you learn from your experience?

Do not take good health for granted. Assist with making appointment if necessary. Don’t depend on the provider and staff to do everything.  Sometimes you’ve got to get involved

 If you could send one message to all of the Good Enough Mother’s out there-what would it be?

As mothers, we often put our health on the back burner while we take care of everyone else.  Remember we are no good to others if we are not physically and mentally well ourselves.  Our health and well-being are just as important as that of our spouses and children.

Helen is a Louisiana resident, Hurricane Katrina survivor and seven-year breast cancer survivor. She is  the founder of Walk In My Shoes Foundation, an organization that re-sells new and gently worn shoes to assist cancer patients with paying utility payments, rent, mortgages and/or purchasing gas cards.

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