I’m Brenda Johima, and I’m 53 years old.
I’ve never had to write about myself having breast cancer before. I’d like to give you the basics.
On April 17th, 2014, I was given a breast cancer diagnosis.
It was an invasive grade 3/3 cancer. (with lymphatic space invasion)
I found a lump in my right breast in December 2013, and went immediately to a walk-in clinic, as my doctor was away. After examination, I was told that definitely there was a lump there and the physician ordered an “urgent” mammogram and ultrasound. This was December 24th. Merry Christmas 2013 to me. The mammogram came back that I needed an “urgent” breast biopsy.
So from December 24th, 2013 to April 2nd 2014, I *waited and waited and waited (for many reasons) for my biopsy. Let’s just say there were many glitches and I fell through a few cracks in the medical system. It worked out in the end, as it was grateful for the surgeon that I have, and for the procedure that they did.
*Almost 4 months after I found the lump, I had an excisional breast biopsy under general anesthesia in Comox, British Columbia, Canada, on April 2nd. I had a fabulous surgeon. I’m grateful I had an excisional biopsy, rather than via the usual method.
The biopsy came back as a grade 3, invasive breast cancer.
I don’t think anybody was expecting this, as I’ve lived a healthy and active lifestyle for most of my life, have never tried a cigarette, and generally eat very healthy foods, walk 5-10K daily, am an avid lake, pool and ocean swimmer, and have done whatever I could to minimize risk factors, with the life I lived.
Cancer hits anybody at random, apparently.
Since the biopsy I have also had “breast conserving surgery” … a lumpectomy, as well as a sentinel node biopsy.
A couple of weeks after surgery, I was told by the surgeon that the results were “good news” and that they think they “got it all” however, I still required radiation to make sure all of the cancer is gone, and hopefully to help prevent a reoccurrence.
Then, as of June 9, 2014, the time of originally writing this, I was in a medical system holding tank.
Except for wait times, which were lengthy (and a GP who made way too many mistakes, who I had to replace) … every step of the way, my medical care was superb, with my surgeon, the walk-in clinic physician, and the hospital. I feel blessed to live in British Columbia and to have a medical system like we do.
There were, what felt like, way-too-long wait times for appointments in Victoria at the BC Cancer Agency, for a medical oncologist (chemotherapy) and a radiation oncologist. I understood from a social worker, that I was also down for hormonal therapy as well.
So, I had to have three possible treatments, which for many breast cancer patients, add up to about one year out of a lifetime (so I’ve been told) with treatment, recovery and healing.
There was a very strong possibility that I needed chemotherapy and hormone therapy. I knew for sure that I need radiation therapy, to hopefully prevent a reoccurrence of breast cancer in future. I was told that I could choose to accept or decline these “standard of care for breast cancer patients” treatments.
There are many, many alternative treatments and possibilities out there for a full recovery and cure, if one has lots of funds, is wealthy, and/or has a super strong mindset and intention (I am told) to beat cancer forever.
Lacking any extra funds, and no savings for alternative medicine, I’m dependent on my mindset and traditional/regular care which is covered by BC Medical.
In the end, I needed ALL THREE treatments. Radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. I opted to include chemotherapy for two reasons: One, I had a serious Grade 3 cancer and two, I had “lymphatic space invasion.” I am in the midst of treatment right now.
I’m doing my best to kick cancer out!
What is NOT covered by BC Medical? Lots.
I live rural, and radiation is only done in a few major centres in B.C. Kelowna and Victoria are my first choices. Sooooo, I knew I had to come up with $1100-$1540 for at least one month ($55/day) to stay at one of the BC Cancer Agency lodges during treatment, and rent a place or afford a hotel nearby, or find friends of friends to stay with for chemotherapy treatments. Hotel costs are double the cancer lodge rates, ranging from $100-$150.00 per night. In addition, I had to keep paying all of my regular monthly bills while not working at all, and continue to care for my standard poodle Teddy without generating any revenue.
I want to say thank you to strangers, yes, total strangers, who have come forward and paid my hotel bills IN FULL, so that I could stay in pet friendly hotels for most of my chemotherapy treatments, so that my standard poodle Teddy could be by my side right after chemotherapy treatments. (revised on September 18, 2014)
I also now have my dates for radiation therapy, which are coming up in October and November, 2014. I will be raising enough funds so that I can stay in Victoria for the duration (4 weeks) and not have to drive the 7-hour-round-trip to and from treatment each week. (the cancer lodge accommodations are closed on weekends, so if you live rural, you need to either stay in a hotel in the city during weekends, or drive home and back each week)
What else is not covered by BC Medical?
In order to boost white blood cell counts, I was prescribed a drug, which is a life saving injection given on days 5-9, every day, in between chemotherapy treatments. It is called Neupogen. IF one did not know how to get funding, this drug would have cost $6000.00. It is not covered by BC Medical. Fortunately, I worked with a pharmacist and nurse, who helped me get coverage for this drug, directly from the drug company.
So, what ABOUT Brenda Johima? Who is she?
I had recently closed my home based graphic design business (before I found out I had cancer) as I had done that from 2002-2013 and was eager to change careers and to have colleagues, to be part of a team, get a day job near a larger city centre (I live rural in Fanny Bay) so that I could find better (and more) employment, meet new people and friends and to begin life anew in a drier climate. I had been looking to the Okanagan as a possibility.
Then cancer hit. Everything has been on hold since.
Prior to all of this? I’ve had an interesting life!
I’ve been a singer, a professional music therapist, a counsellor, family advancement worker, child care worker, program coordinator (numerous times), a flea control sales woman (yes) and pet supplies store cashier, a lifeguard and swim instructor, fitness and aerobics instructor, a public speaker and workshop facilitator, on and on, more and more. Ask me!
I value kindness and I love nature, animals, wildlife, pets, DOGS (LOVE dogs), I believe in watching out for the underdog, and in stepping in to take action to protect others from bullies (I have zero tolerance for bullies), and I have been a volunteer for conferences, festivals, and with persons with disabilities, I have volunteered my photography services for SPCA special events, donated poster designs for special causes, worked with suicide prevention and saved lives that deserved to be saved, and finally, as a lifeguard, I saved many many lives, which to this day, I am proud.
I hope this gives you a small glimpse into a piece of my life and I’m asking for your support, love and prayers, and assistance with fundraising as I navigate this breast cancer journey to a full cure, so that in life, I THRIVE.
Kindness, Love and Light Make The World A Better Place. — Brenda Johima
(this page has been revised on September 18, 2014)