[00:00:00] Adam Walker: This podcast is brought to you by Exact Sciences, with a leading portfolio of products for earlier detection and treatment guidance. Exact Sciences helps people face the most challenging decisions with confidence.
From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Screening tests are used to find breast cancer before it causes any warning signs or symptoms, when chances for survival are highest. It is important to stay on top of your breast health by knowing your risk, getting screened, knowing what is normal for you and making healthy lifestyle choices. Today’s guest has a history of breast cancer on her mom’s side and unfortunately lost her sister to the disease in 2013.
Because of her family history, she started getting yearly mammograms early and when it was determined that she had cysts, that schedule changed to every 6 months. Because of this commitment to screening, her own breast cancer was caught early.
Here today to share her story with us and how her family has helped her through is Terri James. Terri, welcome to the show!
[00:01:12] Terri James: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me well, so nice to talk to you
[00:01:14] Adam Walker:.Thanks for joining us. Uh, so let’s start with your breast cancer story. When were you diagnosed and what stage and type was it? Um,
[00:01:26] Terri James: I was diagnosed in October of 2019. At the time we thought it was stage zero until after surgery, it was determined.
It was stage one, um, ER, positive. Um, I have to look at my notes, her two negative, all those little numbers confuse me, but so, um, stage one.
[00:01:46] Adam Walker: Okay. And, uh, and I mean, that’s great that you caught it, you know, that early, I mean, that, that really shows how important testing is. Right?
[00:01:55] Terri James: Most definitely, definitely.
[00:01:58] Adam Walker: Okay. And I understand that you have a family history of breast cancer. Tell us about that and how it calls you to, to be looked at more closely, more closely screened, leading up to your diagnosis.
[00:02:08] Terri James: So, um, I do have a strong family history on my mom’s side. So my maternal grandmother had breast cancer. My maternal.
And my sister, unfortunately, my sister had passed from breast cancer in 2013. My grandmother and aunt also passed, but they passed from, um, other health concerns conditions and not their breast cancer, but they all did have breast cancer. So that led to me, of course, getting my mammogram. Early. And then, um, because I was getting them started getting them early.
I will, it was determined that I did have SIS that combined with the family history led my doctors to recommended me to get my mammograms every six months. And that’s how we were able to pick up. Sorry.
[00:02:56] Adam Walker: And yeah, and the mammograms are just so important. We talk about that on this show all the time. It’s so important not to put those off.
So, so tell us, what was your experience like that day when your screening was different? Did you know something was off and kind of walk us through the emotions of that day?
[00:03:13] Terri James: So that was lightly wildest. They ever, because since I was getting them every second, It was just, it was such a routine, you know, like, okay, talk to my mammograms, let me go up here and get it, you know, do this right quick, you know, and get on out.
So I went and it was sort of full that day. The breast center, um, was like, wow, it’s a lot of people here. And a lot of people were in there looking so a little nervous when we were, you know, in the bag waiting. Um, it may be in who I am on sort of offering encouraging words. I, you know, it’s okay. You know, it’ll be fine.
Not knowing that, you know, in a couple of hours, I was going to be the one that needed that company. So I went in, got my regular mammogram, like normal technicians helped me, you know, just wait a few minutes. And two minutes later they came back and got me again, who wants to take another look. Okay, came back.
Wait, it got me again. We want to take another look, you know, then I’m starting to grow concerned. I’m like, okay, what’s happening. We just want to take one more. Look, Jessica at a different angle, like, okay. So I went back in and I’m like, look, if I have to take my top off for you guys, one more time, someone’s going to have to start throwing dollar bills at me because this is kind of ridiculous.
You know what, you know, trying to inject some humor to calm myself down because I’m starting to get into. Then they wanted to do an ultrasound. And I still wasn’t really concerned because I always have to get an ultrasound afterwards, like okay, fine. When they got the ultrasound and the technician went out to speak to the radiologist and came back and she had a card in her hand and I’m like, why do you have a card in your hand, a card in your hand means you to refer me to someone else.
So what’s that. And she was like, yes, I’m sorry. You know, we do see a little something. We want to refer you to a breast surgeon to get a biopsy. So, you know, as soon as those words came out of her mouth, you know, of course she can’t tell me a whole lot. She doesn’t know a whole lot at that point. And I’m asking all these questions of her and she was like, well, that’s not, you go see the breast surgeon and you know, we’ll take it from there.
Go back to the dressing room and I’m just breaking down. I’m just shaking, you know, try not to be up to upset because I don’t want to alarm the other people and scare them and trying to keep it together. And I finally get to my car and call my husband. I’m like, you know, they found something they think is something there what’s going on.
Not at all. So that day I just, of course I didn’t sleep any that night. And the next day I started making the phone calls, setting up appointments and so forth, but it was, um, it was a terrible rollercoaster that.
[00:05:41] Adam Walker: I can, I can only imagine it and tell us, I mean, you said you called your husband. I mean, how did your family react to the news?
[00:05:48] Terri James: Oh, um, at that point that was just getting ready for the biopsy. And so my husband, he is a way more positive. Things are than I am more way more logical finger. And he was like, well, this is just a video. Let’s see what it is. You know, don’t get so worried. Just keep it calm. Let’s go to the bathroom and see what they say before you get out.
Just don’t panic. At this point, we don’t know anything. This is just, you know, it could be just routine. So I didn’t tell anyone else at that point, uh, Intel. No, my children aren’t anything because they don’t want to scare anybody. Like let’s get through these things and see what it is. So, um, we went to meet with the breast surgeon and she outlined everything that, you know, that it could possibly be.
And she was really, really positive. So she was, she was great. You know, let’s not, you know, get worked up yet. Not that we, this, it couldn’t be that could just be counseled for patients less. Jessie will do the biopsy. Okay. Cool. Went for the biopsy. Um, got that done. And then when I was going back for the results, do you want me to go into that phase yet?
[00:06:54] Adam Walker: Tell us all about it.
[00:06:57] Terri James: So today I was going for the biopsy results. Um, my husband’s like, you know, do you want me to go? I was like, no, it’s just, no, just was all. That’d be fine. People get biopsies every day, you know, no problem. Not worried about going because you know, my. No, you don’t really know how to handle it.
People tell you to think positive, think positive, you know, and that’s gonna change things, you know, and just pray. But then you sort of want to prepare yourself for the potential bad news. So I didn’t know what to do. Like do I put it in my head that is going to be something and go ahead and prepare myself or do I keep thinking positive saying, oh, it’s nothing.
It’s nothing. So I didn’t quite know how to feel, but I’m like, okay, I’m just going to think positive. It’s not. Um, so going in and she comes in and she was like, you know, um, Mr. Ames, I’m sorry, we’d be at the tag that there, that it is cancer. And after that, and I didn’t really hear anything she said at that point, because it’s both words and that’s still hate saying that word to this day.
When I mentioned it to people, I would just say know. My diagnosis. I just still hate that word. So, and then when she said it, I just, I couldn’t hear anything, everything. She was just mumbling. I mean, she was talking clearly what, to me, she was mumbling. I couldn’t take anything in. And she was trying to explain everything what was going to happen.
And she was, she was really calm, really patient. She would give me a little information and just kind of stayed with me and pat my leg, you know, to make sure I understood what she was saying. Um, that I was hearing her and I was, but I wasn’t. And then she would give me a little more information and, you know, and then just wait a second and they ain’t give me a little more and I didn’t know I was losing it and I was trying to stay calm, but losing it at that point.
And if she was. Just telling me all the doctors I was going to have to see after that. And, you know, the testing and everything that was going to happen. Um, I finally, you know, stumbled out of there that day. Um, made it to my car and just like fell apart. You know, cause I called my husband right away and he was at work in Athens, Jordan.
I was in Decatur and he was like, okay, just, you know, just stay there. I’m camos by. No, I need to get out of this parking lot. I need to go somewhere. He was like, well, you can’t drive. I’m like, my job is right down the street. So I drove to the parking lot of my job. And by that time, one of my coworkers, she knew what was happening and she called me and she was like, you know, what, how did it go was what’s happening?
And I, like I say, what’s come downstairs. So she came downstairs and she brought two of my other friends and we still all stood in the parking lot, the four of us and just cried. And I was in a circle. And by that time I calmed down enough to make it home. And I met my husband there.
[00:09:51] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean, it’s such a, such a traumatic experience for sure. So, um, you know, I’m curious, based on your family history, did you at any point undergo genetic testing?
[00:10:03] Terri James: I, yeah, it, so that was one of the, um, instructions I was when she went to, was going through everything with me. That was one of the things that she recommended.
So maybe just a few days after that, I think I went and had the genetic testing done and got those results maybe a few days later. And surprisingly it came back. Negative. I can’t remember the name of that test, but that I don’t have the gene because I was really concerned as I have a daughter, I have two granddaughters.
I have nieces, my sister has, um, daughters and they have daughters. And that was just so concerned. But knowing that I don’t carry, it was a huge relief. No, of course they fear what they mean right away. Why, what about my children?
[00:10:48] Adam Walker: Right. Yeah. Certainly that’s always, always a key concern, so. All right. So, so walk us through, you know, you, you underwent treatment during the pandemic.
What was that like?
[00:11:00] Terri James: So I, man, just, just the way things happen died, it’s just so good. So when I started with, I went through my surgeries, I had two different surgeries. Um, the, no heal from that and then started my radiation. My radiation started right as the pandemic was just kicking off, it’s gearing up.
Um, so we were like taking the precautions, but we weren’t. Having to stay in or anything at that point. So of course I was going every day for radiation and everything was, um, so routine every single day, same time going in there being right at the end of the, um, my treatments is when things really started getting serious and started to shut down.
But I was at the very end of it. So it didn’t impact me. It would have, if everything would have been locked down, but it was just the differences of the hospitals shut down, um, to have everybody come into the one entrance so that they could monitor or screen everyone as they were in. And that threw me off because it was such a routine to me.
And then having to the last day I went, I had to park in a different location and go in a different entrance to the center. And I just couldn’t handle that. My nerves was like, no, this is not right. What is happening? Why, why is this like this? Now? This is not how it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to park here and go with this.
So that whole day was, I was a mess and the radiation team, they were just wonderful. People just took such good care of me every single day when I left. I’m like, you know, I love you guys, but I just never want to see any of you again in my life. And then that same day. So the radiation doctor, he told me there was my last visit with him and he told me that he was retiring and he wasn’t going to be there anymore.
And the same time my doctor, I was going to start seeing, after that my oncologist, I was supposed to have an appointment with him that next day. And he canceled. So to me, like my whole world was just turned upside down and one day I’m like, what is happening? And when he told me that he was retiring, I just stopped crying.
Just crying and just boom crime. And he’s like, Ms. James, what is wrong? I’m like, why you leave me? I’m like, I was coming here every day. You guys were keeping the eye on me. You were watching me. I felt like you were watching me every single day. So if there’s any type of change, if anything was different, you guys would know at first, even though they weren’t looking at all that in my mind, they were.
So I felt like sort of protected and secure and they didn’t knowing that he’s retired. This was my last. You know, nothing was the same anymore. I couldn’t park in the city anymore. And the other doctor had canceled my appointment and I just fell apart that day for silly, silly reasons.
[00:13:54] Adam Walker: Well, I mean, and you see, you mentioned that day as being hard.
I know there were lots of hard days. What helped you get through those hard days?
[00:14:03] Terri James: Um, it would have to be just the support of my family and my friends. So I didn’t, um, after, you know, I told my husband, I know a couple of my coworkers or my really, really close girlfriends when I have name and told my children, um, other than, you know, my husband and my freest knew, but because I was so scared, I didn’t know how to tell them.
Scaring them, even though my son is, he was 33 at 32 at the time, and my daughter was 18 at the time, but, um, still didn’t want to scare them. You know, that’s like the most frightening thing. So when we finally told them, um, my husband and I started talking to him, he of like over, he was like, you know, you’re gonna scare them.
So let me, and he put a more way more positive spin on it, like, okay, this is. What’s happening. Your mom is going to have to have surgery to serve. It’s going to take care of everything. She’s going to be fine afterwards, but we have to take this step in order for her to get, you know, to the other side of it.
And, you know, thank God he did. So the kids, they, you know, they were scared and worried, but not as scared as if, if I had taken over the conversation, I would relate, but it was a lot better the way he handled it. So just that family support. Mother-in-law she came up and she stayed with us when I had my surgery and take care of everything, helped us through it.
And my girlfriends that’s that whole family support. I just couldn’t imagine not having anyone. Um, To just be with me and hold my hand and listen to me. Why all the time, you know, complaining about going to radiation every day, even though it didn’t take long, it was really quick, but just not have to travel up every day, every single day, it wasn’t bad at all, but I still found a way to sort of complain about it.
[00:15:51] Adam Walker: Well, I probably, it probably helps you get through it as well. I would imagine they were okay with that. So the last question is someone intimately involved with breast cancer on so many levels. Do you have any final advice that you’d like to share with our listeners?
[00:16:05] Terri James: Um, just asking you mentioned when they intro just that mammograms and the screenings are so important, even though when I first started getting them, I was of getting them.
I was young for just because I knew that, you know, as a woman, that’s what I was supposed to do. Didn’t really, really think of how important it was. Um, until I really. Detecting this soul early really, really saved my life. I said, if I had waited until that next year, who knows, you know, what stage it would have advanced to, but, um, you know, it’s, it’s a little, not even really painful.
There’s a little discomfort there, maybe a little bit of pain, but it’s so worth it or worth it in every breast testing center that I’ve gone to. Everyone is always so nice. So kind so loving. So they’re going to take really, really good care of you no matter what.
[00:16:55] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. It’s great.
Great advice, Terri. Uh, thank you for, for being vulnerable. Thank you for being an inspiration and thank you for joining us on the show today.
[00:17:04] Terri James: Thank you so much. I enjoyed talking with you.
[00:17:10] Adam Walker: Thank you to Exact Sciences for supporting this Real Pink podcast. For more information about Exact Sciences, please visit their website at exactsciences.com. For more information about genomic testing in breast cancer, please visit www.Komen.org.
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com.