By NASH NUNNERY
Helen Curtis cried.
And then she cried some more.
Nearly 12 years ago, following her yearly mammogram, Curtis’ physician delivered devastating news – she had breast cancer.
“When the doctor first told me, I kept a straight face and asked him to please keep it from my family,” she said. “Then I got to my car and cried and cried for a long time. I didn’t question God as to ‘why’ but I did start doing a lot of praying.”
Eleven and a half years later, Helen Curtis is cancer-free.
“My cancer was caught very early and I am eternally grateful that it was,” said the Hermanville native. “Dr. (Gaylen) Poole told me there was good cancer and bad cancer. And I had the good cancer, if you can call cancer good.
“Putting God first and Dr. Poole second, I beat it.”
Curtis’ was initially diagnosed with breast calcifications, which show up as tiny spots of calcium in her breast. They are too small to feel but can be seen on a mammogram. Most of the time, the calcium deposits are harmless. But sometimes they grow in clusters, often a sign of cancer.
“The calcifications were actually in the breast’s milk ducts,” said Curtis. “Apparently, they’d been in there for years. Dr. Poole removed the abnormal cells and put me under radiation for one week. I was back at work in two weeks, thanks to early detection – and lots of prayer.”
As an African-American woman, Curtis is among a group of Americans that have seen breast cancer rates increase in recent years. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer incidence rates increased 0.4 percent in black women from 2008 to 2012.
Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among all women in the United States, after skin cancer.
Curtis, who retired from the Mississippi Development Authority’s finance division in 2015, credits Poole for getting her through the trauma of having breast cancer.
“He held my hand and prayed with me often, from the first time I saw him until this very day,” she said. “I’ll never forget Dr. Poole telling me I could call him anytime, day or night. He’s my praying doctor and I will always be beholden to him for the treatment given and his prayers.”
Because obesity and excess weigh increase the risk of developing breast cancer, experts recommend that women maintain a healthy weight. Many ACS studies have confirmed that women who get regular physical activity have a 10-20 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to females who get no exercise.
Curtis is sold on the idea, and works an exercise program religiously.
“I’m not a gym freak but I am a huge water aerobics advocate,” she said. “I lift weights three times a week and do water aerobics every day.”
Diet also plays a role for Curtis in her battle to stave off further cancer.
“My eating habits have completely changed post-cancer,” said the Mississippi Valley State University graduate. “I stay away from red meat and eat lots of vegetables. And, take lots of vitamins and no caffeine.”
In her spare time, Curtis stays involved in volunteering at breast cancer awareness events. Giving back is part of the journey, she says.
“Cancer will make you love life,” said Curtis. “Somehow, I always knew that I was going to be fine.”
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