Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
At 47 years old, Cheryl Ash-Simpson was living a fairy tale. In the process of planning her wedding and at the top of her career, all of the pieces were finally lining up and she was headed into the perfect life she always dreamed of. Then three days before her wedding, she got a diagnosis that would rock her world. She had Stage IIA breast cancer and needed aggressive treatment.
Pulling on the strength of her family and her faith in God, she was able to overcome what would prove to be one of the biggest challenges she would ever face. Now cancer-free and an advocate for breast health and health awareness, Cheryl is sharing her story in a new PBS documentary Sunshine, Noodles and Me. We spoke with her for some tip on receiving an unexpected diagnosis, the importance of listening to your body, and never giving up.
JET: Your breast cancer was found at an advanced stage. Was it discovered through a routine screening?
Cheryl Ash-Simpson: It took me by surprise. I had always gotten yearly mammograms in October. In August, I happened to reach across my breast while driving and felt a small mass. I went to my doctor and was told I needed to get a mammogram. I had the mammogram and there was nothing there. I also had an ultrasound due to my dense breast tissue, and hiding there was a suspicious mass.
JET: What did you know if anything about breast cancer at the time of your diagnosis?
CAS: My mother had breast cancer at 69. I was there to help her through. But she was at stage 1 and she didn’t have to have chemotherapy. So I still wasn’t as smart about the disease as I should have been. She handled it so triumphantly that it made it seem like it was ok. But when it hit me, I needed to understand what the disease was and how it would affect me really.
JET: As a young woman, did you have a lot of resources and support?
CAS: I had an African American female surgeon and a primary care physician who I leaned on and they provided lots of information along with my family support.
JET: The documentary Sunshine, Noodles and Me chronicles your journey. How soon after diagnosis did you decide you wanted to share this with the world and what was your motivation behind it?
CAS: I started journaling when I was first diagnosed and I thought I was going to write a book. Then I moved to Malaysia and that’s when it morphed into the documentary. I decided to tell my story in a way to let everyone know that you can overcome breast cancer or any adversity and continue to thrive and enjoy life. Moving forward, we are looking forward to the screen play and the book version.
JET: What would you say to other young women like yourself who may be facing an unexpected diagnosis in the prime of their lives?
CAS: Step back, try to relax, and make sure you have a good medical team and faith in God. It’s not what you go through that’s important, it’s how you go through. Having a diagnosis doesn’t mean that’s the end. That means something is happening right now, but there’s the possibility through faith, prayer, and medicine that you can make it through. Continue to have a positive attitude because that really affects how you manage through that diagnosis.
For more information about Sunshine, Noodles and Me, please visit the documentary’s Facebook page.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors:
Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!