"Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will."
Laudable words spoken by writer and actor Ben Stein, who we hope voiced these thoughts with a bit more enthusiasm than his memorably lethargic delivery in all those Clear Eyes commercials back in the 90s...
But we do know for sure that our June survivor echoes his words with enough enthusiasm and faith for all of us!
Ka'idah Ali discovered she may have breast cancer during a routine annual exam, without having any symptoms.
After further testing, not only did she receive a diagnosis but it was delivered to her by whom she refers to as an "uncaring specialist" who left her in the room alone in tears. An occurrence we are terribly sorry she had to endure - no one should have to receive such life altering news in anything less than a fully supportive and comforting manner.
Ka'idah agrees and believes that's why a higher power stepped in.
"My first thoughts were I was going to die and my children would be motherless. Allah is merciful. He sent me to a very caring and kind oncologist Dr. Chung."
While having Dr. Chung on her team helped bear the weight of her diagnosis greatly, the road ahead was still a challenge.
"After surgery I was sent home the same day, which was the worst feeling in the world. My recovery process began by being sent home with a drainage bag, my sister had to help me change it. Then I had to rebuild my blood as part of my treatment, the other struggle for me was the mental stress it took on me losing a part of my feminine makeup."
Ka'idah brings up two important and very real matters that breast cancer patients often deal with.
As many of us know chemotherapy is a highly popular go-to treatment for many breast cancer patients. And we’ve also grown familiar with common side effects including hair loss and nausea. Chemo's effect on your blood though is something less commonly discussed.
Chemo sets its mark on cells that are dividing speedily, aiming to hit cancer cells as its main target. However, many normal cells in our bodies are also dividing at a faster pace and so chemo hits them too in its combat.
According to Breastcancer.org, healthy cells can generally repair themselves after any damage once treatment has ceased but as chemo damages bone marrow in particular, the marrow decreases its capability to produce enough red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The largest blow of all three is to the white blood cells and as you may know, a deficit of white blood cells leaves your body more susceptible to infection.
If your counts don't level up even after treatment, or between treatments, your doctor may postpone your next round of chemo, reduce your dose, or prescribe antibiotics together with your treatment to strengthen your immune system against infection.
You may also develop neutropenia, which is an abnormally low count of neutrophils, the white blood cells most important for fighting off infections. If neutropenia is joined by a fever, your doctor may add some medications to your chemo treatments called colony-stimulating factors (CSFs) or white blood cell growth factors which will help increase neutrophils and other types of white blood cells. Most of these medications would be given as a series of shots in between treatment cycles.
While with blood cell counts we see a scientific and medical cause and effect, Ka'idah's other point is something more of an emotional aftershock which is very common for women going through breast cancer.
For many women with breast cancer the physical appearance of one or both breasts may change as a result of surgery. This can cause a feeling of discomfort or even create self-esteem issues about body image. Other changes in appearance may involve hair loss, which though temporary can alter how we feel and view ourselves even in the short term. On a deeper level, for younger patients and survivors, there could be an added weight of wondering how and if this disease and/or treatment process may or may not affect your chances of bearing a child or having a healthy pregnancy.
All of these issues have a common denominator of, like Ka’idah put it, feeling a loss or disconnect from our feminine makeup. The American Cancer Society identifies emotional stress as a real issue and encourages patients and survivors to speak with someone about how you are feeling pointing to support groups as one avenue, including one of their own called Reach To Recovery. We think this is a great program and urge you to follow the link for more information on that.
We couldn't agree more. It is so important to remember that while you are visiting with doctors for the scientific and medical aspects to your journey and treatment, you should take care of the emotional and mental aspects as well. Outside of support groups, speaking with a healthcare professional about stress levels or concerns, or even speaking to a family member, can be a good start.
Throughout her journey, Ka'idah remained grateful to her support system made up of family and friends. Above all else though, Ka’idah credits Allah.
"Faith is so very important in each and everyone's life,” she said. "My faith is what gets me through all my life struggles. I did and continue to pray. I ask Almighty Allah for strength, a healthy heart, and sound mind with all my affairs."
Thank you Ka’idah for sharing your story and we know you kicked off the month celebrating your birthday so happy birthday to you!
We look forward to catching up with you and the rest of our EOTS family next month but until then keep your sun block on and your Eye On Strength!