Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I was 41 years when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was initially told that I had DCIS, a non-invasive breast cancer, considered to be Stage 0. After my first surgery, I was upgraded to Stage IIa. Because of my mother’s history of non-cancerous cystic masses, I began mammograms earlier than normal in my late 30s. This proved to be very beneficial. My annual mammogram in 2010 discovered calcifications that had not previously shown up in prior year screenings. I received a call the Monday before Christmas 2010 while sitting at work as the nurse stated, “Mrs Sykes, we are sorry to inform you but it does appear that you have a very early stage of breast cancer.”
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I got up from my desk and I walked over to two coworkers who were aware that I was awaiting on the report. I initially started to get down and they both begin to encourage me and helped me to see the bright side to my early detection.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Initially, my prescribed treatment was lumpectomy and radiation and the 5 year pill Tamoxifen. After my lumpectomy showed an invasive component, I was told that my cancer was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I had to return to surgery for lymph node surgery. A tumor was found in my lymph nodes. My pathology showed low grade and identified that I was Her2 Positive. Chemotherapy was added to my treatment plan.
After I recovered from the second surgery, I had 16 weeks of chemotherapy (8 treatments) followed by 7 weeks of radiation therapy (35 treatments).
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I think what surprised me the most about my treatment was how well I fared through each one. I definitely had some days where I didn’t feel so hot, usually 2-3 days right after treatment, but overall I was surprised how quickly I recovered after each treatment. I had heard many horror stories about the long lasting side effects and I was surprised that other than my scars from surgery and some skin pigmentation changes from the radiation, I exhibited no visible side effects from the treatments.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
I would encourage them to not view it as an immediate death sentence. I am convinced that the primary battle every person diagnosed with cancer wages is in the mind. I also encourage others to recognize that although you are the one going through the physical aspects of cancer diagnosis, others who love you struggle to see you go through this condition. Never invalidate their feelings.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
Just before I began chemotherapy in February of 2011, a PET scan revealed that there was no active cancer in my body. I have been cancer free for 3 and 1/2 years.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned that even though I had days when I didn’t feel good, I could still get up and dress up even when I didn’t feel like it. I found this to be a great inspiration for other survivors in the treatment facility. I learned to tell my story from a place of victory so that others drew encouragement from me. I learned to detox my body to more speedily rid myself of the unwanted toxins from the treatments. To be quite honest, I never realized there were large facilities with large treatment rooms where individuals went at the same time to receive chemotherapy and shared their stories about their cancer.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there-what would it be?
I think that message would be the message my oncologist gave to me toward the end of my chemo treatments. During this visit I found myself more anxious than usual. I asked of him, “What is the likelihood of the cancer coming back?” My doctor said to me, “Dywuana, we gave you the most aggressive treatment so you could live-no go and live!!!” I would tell them not to waste any time in the bondage of “what ifs”. I would tell them to “Go and live, embracing the reality that there is nothing more precious than living your best life now!!!”
Dywuana Sykes holds an MBA in Management from Middle Tennessee State University and a BBA in Accounting from the University of Memphis. She is currently the founder of Master Your Passions, Inc., a personal and business coaching organization where she aids individuals and small businesses in discovering their passions and unique contributions. She is also a breast cancer survivor who walked more than 30 miles in the Susan G. Komen Atlanta 3-day just 4 weeks after completing treatment. She and her team of three have walked in this event every year in Chicago in 2012, Tampa in 2013 and heading to Dallas in November of 2014. Collectively they have walked more than 5000 miles and raised more than $20,000 toward breast cancer treatment and research. In September, 2014, she published her first book, “Cancer-Us: It was Me. Is it You?“. This book gives insight on her breast cancer journey but uses this platform to aid you in overcoming any threatening condition. Her greatest passion is motivational speaking to women all over the world.