By BECKY GILLETTE
Five years ago, a diagnosis of breast cancer for Katrina B. Myricks of Madison, a professor in the business department of Holmes Community College, came from out of the blue.
“I did not have any idea I had breast cancer,” Myricks said. “I never felt a lump. It was the mammogram that caught it. I had a mammogram in December of 2012. They called me in January 2013 to come back to get another test done that confirmed I had breast cancer. I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer that primarily affects African Americans, and I had a lumpectomy.”
A lumpectomy, also known as breast-conserving surgery, involves removing the tumor and other abnormal tissue. Myricks’ physician felt her cancer could be treated effectively with a lumpectomy, as opposed to a mastectomy that would have removed the entire breast.
“There was no need for me to have a mastectomy, so I don’t have to worry about the cosmetic effects,” Myricks said.
After the surgery, she went through eight rounds of chemotherapy, had eight injections to help improve her immune system, and had 36 rounds of radiation. Myricks was able to tolerate the treatments well.
“I was weak, but I didn’t feel nauseated,” she said. “I slept a lot. I worked after a certain period of time. I went through my treatments for about six weeks and then I worked as my body would allow me to, which was part-time for a while.”
A vital part of her recovery, Myricks said, has been the emotional support from family, friends, church members and co-workers.
“It is important for any cancer patient to have emotional support from other individuals,” she said. “There needs to be a community of people to support you. When you go through something like this, your family also goes through the process with you. I’m lucky to have had great support from my family.”
Her family includes her husband of 31 years, Ken Myricks, and their 17-year old daughter, Kaitlin Myricks.
Her daughter, only 12 at the time her was diagnosed, had put a pink boa around her mother’s neck and told her that everything was going to be okay.
“She said God told her I was going to be okay,” Myricks said. “There is a Bible scripture about ‘from the mouths of babes,’ so that was my confirmation.”
Myricks still prizes that pink boa.
Myricks also credits her faith in God as being key to her recovery. She attends New Hope Baptist Church on Watkins Drive in Jackson. Before even telling her family after being diagnosed, she went to the church altar to pray.
“I turned it over to God at that point because of my faith,” she said.
Myricks received her treatments in a private room at St. Dominic Memorial Hospital in Jackson. That allowed her to often work while she was getting treatment. She had a laptop and would check students’ grades and assignments. She said cancer treatments affect people differently, and not everyone can work while receiving treatments.
“What I was able to do, some other people might not be able to do,” she said. “Everyone’s treatment is going to be different based on their bodies and what is going on with them. My treatments could be different than the next person who comes along with the disease.”
Myricks had no history of breast cancer in the family. And while triple-negative breast cancer primarily affects African Americans, it can also affect other races. She has two white friends who have had the disease.
For the first three years after treatment, Myricks went back twice a year for mammograms. Now she goes back once a year for a mammogram.
“Hitting year three was a milestone for someone with triple-negative breast cancer,” she said. “To reach year five is a tremendous testament.”
Myricks has high praise for her surgeon, Dr. Reginald Martin, and her oncologist, Dr. Guangzhi Qu. She strongly recommends that anyone diagnosed with breast cancer listen to her physicians instead of trying to second guess them with online research.
“Internet sources of information may not always be reliable or pertinent to your condition,” she said. “Follow the instructions of your physicians. Don’t compare yourself to other people because each person is different.”
She said the best advice she received from a former cancer patient was about losing her hair because of the treatments.
“She said, ‘Remember when you lose your hair, the hair does not make the person’,” said Myricks, who wore a wig while going through the treatments. “The hair will grow back.”
It is also important to keep a positive attitude.
“When you hear the word ‘cancer’, that is not associated with death anymore,” Myricks said. “I view myself as part of an elite club called cancer survivors. And all of our journeys were different for how we got there. What is not different is the fight we had to go through to be survivors.”
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