October 03, 2013
By Princess Manasseh
Talking to Deborah Neal is instantly a day-brightening experience. Radiating happiness with her jubilant spirit and infectious laughter it’s hard to believe that just four years ago she braved 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radical radiation.
Nevertheless it’s true that just months after her diagnosis of stage II breast cancer Neal was going in for a mastectomy where surgeons would remove 13 lymph nodes.
Diagnosed in March, recovering by September, the timeline may seem like a short one, but for Neal’s husband of 23 years the journey felt anything but.
“The most difficult part for me was watching my husband because he was so afraid for me,” recounts Neal. “I just told him, ‘don’t worry. God is going to heal me.’”
Neal, who had been getting annual mammograms faithfully since she turned forty, missed her 2008 appointment because she was sick. Still one to keep up her self-breast examines, she discovered a lump in November of 2008 that hadn’t been there before.
It took her three months to bring the issue to her doctor. The following February, fighting a bought of bronchitis, Neal was in her doctor’s office getting an excuse for work when she mentioned the lump.
From there her doctor ordered a mammogram, which was quickly followed with a biopsy.
“After the biopsy they left a marker and I knew, yep, I must have it.” She remembers freely.
When found, Neal’s cancer was in Stage II B meaning the tumor was between two and five centimeters and had spread to the axillary lymph nodes. To treat it doctors acted aggressively using a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and finally a mastectomy removing Neal’s left breast.
Breast Cancer comes in stages 0-IV. Stage O is explained on breastcancer.org as the term used to describe non-invasive breast cancers where there is no evidence of the cancer cells or non-cancerous abnormal cells, breaking out of the part of the breast in which they originated, and invading neighboring normal cells.
Stage IV, the most advanced stage, is where the cancer has spread from the breasts and lymph nodes and has reached other organs in the body such as the lungs, skin, liver, or brain.
Detecting cancer early is key to treating it most effectively, according to surgical oncologist Ronald Hurst at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood.
“I encourage my patients to get comfortable with their bodies,” explains Hurst who says self-breast exams are an effective tool for women who are comfortable enough to administer them.
“Women need to understand the statistics and numbers. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Hurst, “that’s twelve percent. Of those, twenty-five percent will die from the disease. Not every woman should be worried, but every woman should be concerned.”
Hurst’s goal is to inform and educate his community about breast cancer. Dispelling fears, he says, is the only way we have a chance in fighting back.
Hurst along with The California Oncology Research Institute is giving a free Cancer Symposium October 5th at First Church of God in Inglewood. It’s a free event and will be moderated by actress Vanessa Bell Calloway who is a breast cancer survivor and one of Hurst’s patients.
This October marks the 25th anniversary of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Events will be held throughout the city all month long by various organizations and groups looking to increase Breast Cancer Awareness.
Gwendolyn Barker, Mission Director at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Los Angeles office says the organization will be having educational events most days this month.
“Our focus is definitely on early detection,” says Barker. “Women who catch it in stage one have something like a 90% chance of remaining cancer free for five years. That percentage drops drastically for those who detect later.”
Deborah Neal, will officially earn her “cancer-free” status when she hits the five-year mark next September.
It was her faith in God, matched with the love of her support team that Neal credits for bringing her through the battle.
“My support team was wonderful,” said Neal of her husband, four brothers, father and step mom. “I also had my church family and awesome team of doctors at Kaiser. Everyone held me up,” she remembered, “But I know it was my Lord and savior Jesus Christ who healed me.”