Speaking Up

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: Join us as we celebrate Black History Month where we’ll honor Komen researchers dedicated to helping us reduce health disparities in Black women, encourage Black women to know their family history and risk factors, and empower Black women to share their personal stories. Together, we Stand for H.E.R. – a Health Equity Revolution.

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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.

Women don’t necessarily have to accept the first breast cancer diagnosis we receive; we can seek a second medical opinion. That’s what our next guest, Se’Nita Harris, did. And it proved to be a smart move. It turns out that her diagnosis of metaplastic breast cancer was inaccurate. She actually had triple negative breast cancer, which called for a different treatment. Se’Nita is here today to talk about the importance of women advocating for themselves. Thank you for joining us!

[00:01:20] Se’Nita Harris: Thank you. Nice to be here today.

[00:01:25] Adam Walker: Well, I’m excited to talk to you. Uh, I don’t, I don’t normally get to talk to guests about this particular nuance of treatment.

And so I really appreciate you taking the time. Uh, to join us today. So let’s start off a little bit with your story. What was going on in your life before you found out you had breast cancer?

[00:01:42] Se’Nita Harris: Yes. Before I was diagnosed, I had just started a new job. Um, it was around the time of the shutdown. So I was trying to find, you know, a new hobbies and things like that, uh, with friends, um, like, you know, doing like indoor things and.

It was just a time in my life where it was a new beginning for me in my career. Um, I was dating someone and it was, uh, you know, kind of a fun time, if that makes sense.

[00:02:18] Adam Walker: That does make sense. Uh, so tell us the story. Like, how did you find out that you had breast

[00:02:23] Se’Nita Harris: cancer? So I was in the shower one day, just listening to the radio as I do and the morning, and I was doing a self exam because I often do that and I noticed a lump.

And when I felt that lump, literally my whole world stopped because I just wasn’t sure what it was. And I didn’t know if it, if it was something that I immediately needed to go to the doctor for, because typically in a young person, you don’t think that is breast cancer. So I was under the assumption that maybe it was like a cyst or maybe it was like a pimple or something.

So I was, I had a little bit of a moment where. You know, my whole world stopped, but then at the same time, I was like in denial because they, they, um, typically don’t diagnose younger people with breast cancer from, from what I had known at the time, and also being a woman of color, I just didn’t see things out there where, you know, young, black women were being diagnosed.

So it was just something that. New what’s going on, but I put it in the back of my mind if that, if that makes sense, because I just, I was totally in denial about it.

[00:03:51] Adam Walker: So then I assume you went and got checked out. You went through that process and then you get to a point where you’re told you have breast cancer.

And what were you told at that point?

[00:04:02] Se’Nita Harris: So I did go and I got, I got checked out. It took me a little bit to finally do that. And then when I went to get checked out, I immediately had to get a mammogram. And then after the mammogram, I got a biopsy. So I knew it was something that was quite serious. And so I was waiting on the call.

I remember doing a biopsy around Thanksgiving, so I had to cancel my flight to go home. And here I am the day before Thanksgiving it and the biopsy. And then like literally my whole holiday. Nerve wrecking, where I was just thinking about what could the possibility be. So the next week I got the call was right before a meeting at work and I I’m looking at the phone.

I’m looking at my computer screen. Do I move? Do I just ignore? Move forward with my, my phone call, um, for the meaning that I have for work. So I ended up just deciding to take the call because I just couldn’t wait any longer. And so with that said, I, I heard the words you have malignant cells. So I wasn’t told like what type of breast cancer was stage.

I just knew that it was malignant cells. And so that was like very scary for me.

[00:05:24] Adam Walker: Um, wow. So you were, you were told you had malignant cells. Um, so, uh, and so I wanna understand, I know that at some point you had a diagnosis. I think we talked about in the, in the intro Metta metaplastic breast cancer, and, and then you ended up going and getting a second opinion.

So walk me through that. Like, what was that diagnosis? And then what led you to decide that you needed to go and get a second?

[00:05:51] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. So the first diagnosis, um, I ended up going into the office of a breast surgeon and it was just very chaotic. So my brother went with me as my support system, and then there was like a nurse in the room and then a surgeon and then a T a teaching assistant.

And it was just like this moment where I was just like, what is going on? And then the nurse was just reading off the chart. So. The the pathology report. So she was saying to me that it came up metaplastic and then she was, she was saying to me, um, in times of like, you know, as low as low. Um, it’s low on certain levels and, you know, I couldn’t really hear what was going on.

And then the breast surgeon came in, did a self exam and then asked me if the TA could do, could also do it. And I’m like, why is there even, you know, another person in here, it was just so chaotic. And, um, by the time that she was done with the exam, she went. To check my lymph nodes, like in the actual room.

So I was just. So confused by everything. And then she told me to meet her in the office. And at this point I didn’t even know what stage I was at. I just knew that, you know, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and I was being told that it was very aggressive. Um, and then at that moment, you know, they wanted to just move forward with chemo first.

And then they scheduled me with the oncologist, to me, with her that. So I ended up going to her actual office and I just remember, like, not knowing what stage I was like, so what stage am I at? And she was just like, oh, stage two. Um, and you know, she basically. Led me to, you know, have a meeting with the oncologist next to talk about the next steps in terms of like what the treatment would look like.

And I just remember it being so chaotic that I left my notebook, like in a whole nother room, because I was just all over the place and it was just very chaotic. But then I had told myself, you know, this. You know, if this is the standard, then I guess I’m okay with it. But then I was like, I have to get a second opinion because this is just too much for me.

And so I decided to advocate for myself and get a second opinion. And then when I got the second opinion, it was a totally different experience.

[00:08:29] Adam Walker: Wow. And so, so how, what, what were the results of the second opinion and how did that change your

[00:08:35] Se’Nita Harris: yeah. So when I went in for the sec, for the second opinion, They actually just took the notes from, you know, the first, the first doctor, because typically when you are getting your second opinion, all they have is the information from the first place.

So originally. Even though I had the same, uh, diagnosis. They wanted to go a different route, which was surgery first. And so here I am like, do I do chemo first? Do I do surgery first? Because metaplastic just to educate everyone is, is 1% of women are diagnosed with metaplastic and sometimes it’s not responsive to chemo.

And so that’s why they wanted to do surgery first. So here I am with a whole different diet. Diagnosis in terms of how we move forward. Um, but then it was around the holiday. So that was also something that happened. So they had a little bit more time to get all of my slides and things of that nature.

And by the time they got everything. Their pathology. People were not convinced that I had metaplastic. So now we’re talking about canceling my surgery a couple of days before because the pathology people, um, the whole team looked at it and were convinced that it was not, not metaplastic it was in fact triple negative.

And so after that, I went back to the original plan of doing chemotherapy. And I had to make that decision. My, my surgeries was planned on a Tuesday and I was being told this on a Thursday night. So I had to quickly make a decision of what I wanted to do. And really, um, the, the, um, surgeon that I had was very thorough and she explained everything and in clear detail.

So when I had my original diagnosis, It was a lot calmer in the beginning. And I w I just remember, like, when I had my original breast exam with her, it was very calm. It was just me and her in the room. And then when I went into her office, It was me, her and my, and my brother. And she literally had a diagram where she drew everything while I saw everything.

And she explained everything detail by detail and it made me really comfortable. And I remember her saying to me, even though triple negative is an aggressive type of breast cancer. She assured me. You know, we’ve caught it early is stage two and you can live a long life. And furthermore, if you were my sister, this is what I would recommend.

So I love the fact that she was able to. Tell me that I had a future. She was able to tell me that if you are my sister. So it made me feel as if though I was being heard and also being seen. So that’s kind of the difference that I had within the second diagnosis. And furthermore, that was the reason why I decided to move forward with the second opinion.

[00:11:45] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean, so it sounds like you went from kind of an uncomfortable and chaotic. Environment in your first diagnosis to a more comfortable and more empathetic environment in your second diagnosis. And, and, and, you know, as I think about that, it just sort of speaks to how important it is that you as the patient and as the advocate for yourself, feel comfortable with who is assisting you through this process.

Right. It’s just so critical. I’m so, so fortunate that you, you had the, the strength of mind and, and character, um, to do that. So what speaking of advocating for yourself, like what did you learn through this process about being an advocate for?

[00:12:25] Se’Nita Harris: I learned that you don’t have to do what the doctor says all the time and that you can add, you can add other people, get other people’s opinions who have been through.

And one thing that I initially did was I talked to a couple of people who were survivors, but I also joined like Facebook support groups. So that was very helpful. Just kind of reading like the comments and what are the ones that have been through who were diagnosed with the specific types of breast cancer that, you know, including metaplastic and also triple negative.

And so just kind of like learning from. From my experience, if that makes sense, because there’s no manual, um, actually there probably are manuals, but when you’re diagnosed, you don’t have the manual, you have to like seek the information. So I think that that helped me to advocate for myself to say, Hey, you know, there’s much more information out there.

There’s much more people are actually going through it because it’s part of. Taking a book, opening a book and like seeing like, oh, wow, there’s so many women who are affected by this. So many young women, so many women of color women who look like there’s women who looked like that and also men as well.

And so that allowed me to really be able to say, Hey, I can advocate for myself because there are so many people going through this.

[00:14:01] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And it kind of gives you that strength when, you know, you’ve got this support network behind you, and you mentioned that you got on Facebook, that you kind of created a support network for yourself.

Can you talk a little bit more about what that was like and how you went about doing that?

[00:14:17] Se’Nita Harris: Yeah. So when I was diagnosed, I decided that I was going to be vocal about it. So I created kind of like a YouTube video. That talked about me being diagnosed. And I just put it out there because I didn’t, I had reached out to all my close friends, like via the phone and it was very overwhelming.

So I knew that one thing I was going to need was support. So I ended up. Just putting a video out there and it allows me to kind of feel more comfortable about telling my story. And so from there, putting that out on social media, a lot of women like reached out to me. And then on top of that, I was able to, um, I feel more comfortable in just like doing like the education, like educating people.

Um, and then just finding more women who look like me, who were younger going through the same thing. And so there are also a lot of organizations out there, um, who, uh, who are younger women, um, who have like Facebook groups and also just like social media pages that I followed. And then. Joining like, uh, you know, support check groups or zoom calls and things of that nature.

So that really helped me through this process.

[00:15:43] Adam Walker: Yeah. That’s still important. I’m so glad that you took the time to do that. I mean, there, there are so many support groups out there and so much available. Um, if you take the time to look, you can often find it just a great network of support, and it’s just so important for you to do some.

I’m glad you got that. So Se’Nita, last question. This has been great, and I really appreciate you being vulnerable and thoughtful with us. Uh, what message would you like to leave with our listeners today?

[00:16:10] Se’Nita Harris: So what I would like to tell other people is that even though you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, you can still live a fulfilling life and you can also thrive as you move forward.

And even though your life changes. And you kind of want your old life back. Your new life can be better, um, as you move forward. And I also think that it’s an opportunity for you to help others, uh, who are going through your situation. And now that I’m on the other end of like chemo, It’s really been helpful for me to like help others and see others go through this journey.

So now I’m a part of a community, um, not a community that, you know, anyone wants to, to, to, to, to be in. But like now that I am in this community is something that. I want to help other people in, so you have the opportunity to help others. And not only that. One thing that we, as survivors like want to do is kind of change, change the numbers and change what we can do in terms of helping people with their diagnosis.

And so this allows us to make sure that women are catching things earlier. I even had a friend who took me to chemo, who was diagnosed after me, and she bought her. On a Sunday and went in on a Monday and now, you know, she’s being, she’s being taken care of immediately. So your story can actually save someone and help someone

[00:18:00] Adam Walker: that’s right.

That’s right. Your story absolutely can save someone and help someone. And everyone has a story that they can share to help someone else. So Se’Nita again, thank you for sharing your life with us. Thank you for sharing this moment in time with us and thank you for being a guest on the show.

[00:18:17] Se’Nita Harris: Thank you. I appreciate it.

[00:18:19] Adam Walker: Thanks to Ford Warriors in Pink for supporting the Real Pink Podcast. To learn more about their transportation grant program and other efforts to help breast cancer patients, visit ford cares dot com

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