Mom and daughter defeat breast cancer together Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Marlene Dawson-McGibbon and her mother, Norma Dawson, are basking in the joy of being on the other side of a dreaded diagnosis — breast cancer-free.

The Greenwich Town, Kingston, mother-and-daughter-duo supported each other on their breast cancer journey, which began in 2009 when Norma was diagnosed with the disease that has been the number one cause of death among females in Jamaica.

Three years later, Marlene was similarly diagnosed.

Despite describing the journey with the disease as not “an easy road”, Marlene is appreciative that she is still alive nine years after her diagnosis.

She also acknowledges that she has received several ‘blessings’ since that time, such as obtaining her United States visa and being promoted from postwoman to supervisor and now inspector at the Jamaica Post.

“Cancer for me is a blessing. People say it bad but I get a lot of blessings from it enuh, so I can’t say it bad for me,” Marlene Told Loop News while recounting her experience with the disease.

It was shocking because we thought it was just a little cist.

Her 79-year-old mother also feels blessed to be alive, even more so that her follow-up tests have shown that cancer has not returned. She lauds God for that blessing.

Marlene remembered when her mom was first diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, describing it as a “shock”.

Marlene added: “It was surprising. Her mother didn’t have it. Her mother’s mother never had it, so it was kinda shocking to hear that and she was 68 at the time.

“It was shocking because we thought it was just a little cist. We didn’t know much about it, as I didn’t have to interact with people who had breast cancer. They saw something when she did the mammogram in 2009, and then she did the biopsy the December of that year.”

The results, however, were not known until February of 2010, a waiting period that Marlene described as being “too long”.

In spite of the news that she had stage three breast cancer, Norma said she remained calm and had a positive outlook.

“I didn’t feel no way at all extra. I just take it calm like nothing never happened and still, even now, I take it calm,” she shared.

She is great. She don’t leave me out no time.

The senior citizen did surgery in March of 2010, removing her left breast. Thereafter, she did chemotherapy and radiation, and eventually completed that process in 2011, according to her daughter, who had to juggle her job and taking care of her mother at the time.

Norma expressed her gratitude to her daughter supported her during her process of recovery.

“She is great. She don’t leave me out no time. If a going to the clinic she would get up from 5 o’clock [in the mornings] and she reach KPH [Kingston Public Hospital] by 6 o’clock. She would hold the line, get a number, then I come after. She don’t leave me an inch,” said Norma.

Then a year after completing a portion of her cancer recovery, Norma’s would be similarly diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was in about July 2012, I felt a lump under my left arm, and I became curious because I wasn’t really doing any self-exam because I use to go to a gynecologist… and he use to just feel with his hands. He never sent me to do a mammogram before,” related Marlene.

“I was diagnosed when I was 43, so I should have been doing a mammogram, but because he said everything was fine when he felt it, I didn’t worry [to] do any,” she admitted.

As a result of feeling the lump, Marlen did a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.

“When I did the biopsy, they told me seven working days, but when they called me in five days, I know that something was wrong,” she said, adding that the results confirmed she had stage two breast cancer.

But she did not panic and went with the result to her doctor who recommended that she should do a double mastectomy to save her life.

“I did not know it [the cancer] was in both [breasts]. I thought it was in one, so that is why he told me to remove them, and I told him to refer me to KPH,” said the 51-year-old Marlene.

Counselling was a requirement before surgery, but she indicated to the doctors that that was not necessary. She had already made up her mind to do surgery, and her mother’s own success story with battling cancer gave her the added confidence.

“That is why I took it [breast cancer] so positive because if she [her mother] can go through it, because I was there through the entire process with her, as we always live together. She has heart condition, poor circulation, hypertension and all of that with the breast cancer, and she went through it,” shared Marlene.

She did the surgery on September 26, 2012.

The next stage for her was chemotherapy and radiation, both were rocky at first, but eventually, her body adjusted.

Additionally, she had to take oral medication for the next five years to block the production of estrogen, as her cancer is estrogen-receptor positive. Her mother also had to be on medication during her recovery period.

“She [my mom] vomited, but I did not [during chemotherapy]… Radiation, to me, is nothing. I didn’t feel any side effects. It is only when it is finished, a week or two after you see the area get black. After couple weeks or so, it clears off,” Marlene said.

While noting that she finished radiation in August 2014, Marlene credited the CHASE Fund and Sagicor for assisting with that aspect of her treatment, which she disclosed was expensive.

[My son] took it a bit different at first, because he didn’t understand, as he was young at that time and just going to do GSAT.

Interestingly, the former postman who rode to deliver letters said she continued to work with Jamaica Post during her chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“I went to work same way. I didn’t stop from work… It was during the chemotherapy that I got promoted to a supervisor and in 2016, I got promoted to an inspector,” she noted further.

Several family members, including her son, Lorenzo Allen, now 20 years old, and her nephew, Gee-Q Hewitt, have been very supportive in her battle with breast cancer journey, as well as that of her mother’s.

“He [my son] took it a bit different at first, because he didn’t understand, as he was young at that time and just going to do GSAT. I remember one time he was saying some guys see him and say, ‘But yuh mom have cancer’. And him say, ‘So what?… at least my mother a try help herself’,” she recounted.

Marlene divulged, too, that she and her mother, Dawson, did not religiously stick to any specific diet during their treatment, as they still ate their usual chicken, among other food items.

“Everybody body is different. We didn’t change our diet. We acted like we were normal… but other people can’t do that. They have to stick to a diet,” she pointed out.

Marlene also lauded her husband for sticking by her during the early stages of her treatment and recovery. The couple married in November 2012, approximately two months after her double mastectomy.

Marlene has since filed for divorce from her husband but she commended him for being by her side during her process of recovery.

“He did not leave me enuh. Not gonna tell a lie. A give him a 100 per cent when it come to dat, because other males leave their partner totally and say they can’t deal with it, and it’s one breast most women removed and I removed both, and he was still here with me.

Throughout the various challenges on the journey, the mother-daughter team has remained strong and used various methods to ensure that they coped with the disease.

Marlene bought a book written by cancer survivor, Dr Jennifer Mamby Alexander, which taught her, among other things, to “make your soul right and put your business in order”.

As a result, she and her mom, as well as other co-workers, made time to go on weekend excursions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted those activities.

Just take the news like I did; stay positive. I never panicked, I was just same way.

“When yuh going through this thing yuh can’t just sit home and stress out, else it ago take a toll on you. Yuh have to find things to do, because you don’t know when things going to change. So, I tell myself anything can happen next, so you just live the best you can today,” she declared.

Marlene has found joy in counselling others with breast cancer, as well as sharing her story. She has achieved this through the Icyline Wallace Cancer Foundation, where she currently serves as a public relations officer.

She admits, too, that she would work in the field of counselling in the future.

“It’s good to have support groups. You have Icyline Wallace Cancer Foundation as well. I have been a part of them since 2018, but they are not as large as Jamaica Reach to Recovery, but they support all types of cancer. Just because of the pandemic, activities slowed down a bit,” she said.

In the meantime, the pair of breast cancer survivors continue to do their regular medical checks.

For her part, Norma is imploring women to do their regular mammogram checks.

“I would tell them from you reach 40, they must go and do the mammogram,” she advised.

To those women who have unfortunately been diagnosed with the disease, she urged them to remain positive as she did.

“Just take the news like I did; stay positive. I never panicked, I was just same way. It nuh change. Just call on God. He will help you. We call on Him in the mornings and in the nights. Every day we thank the Lord,” she advised.

Her daughter called on breast cancer patients not to view the illness as “a death sentence”.

Marlene said: “Cancer is not a death sentence. You have to just get the information and find out exactly what is happening because it is not all cancer[s] that are detrimental. When you feel something, go and get a check; some people feel something and are afraid to find out. That is what is affecting a lot of women because when they feel the lump they are afraid to have the breast done.”