One Person Can Change the World: I'm Living Proof!
I was just a small child when I first recall hearing my teachers, parents, and elders assuring me that "I could change the world." I couldn't comprehend what they were talking about because even Mother Teresa was not able to feed, clothe, and house all the orphans in the world. The whole principle seemed like such an unrealistic goal that even as an invincible adolescent, the thought of it left me feeling more inadequate than motivated.
Back when I was 38 years old with 3 small children, I discovered a pea-size lump in my breast. The doctor told me one day later, "Angelle, not only is it cancer, but you have the most aggressive kind, and you only have a 34% chance of surviving 7 years." Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown, and it was all I could stand... actually I couldn't. How could the winds of change come upon us so quickly? How could we survive this storm?
I went into treatments full throttle, in battle mode. Telling a mother that she's not going to be around to raise her babies is like unleashing a lioness protecting her cubs from hyenas. There was no stopping my will. I was determined to become a doctor of breast cancer, and I was going to fight as hard as I could to just try to live longer. If it didn't work out, well... at least I would know that I did everything I could, and was going to do it gracefully, so that my children would at least remember me well.
The cruelest thing about treatment is that you have to wait years after completion to know if it actually worked. If you don't know what patience is in the midst of fear and sorrow, you have to instantly learn it. My oncologist said that I would start with the usual 4 rounds of Cytoxin and Adriamycin, and finish with 4 rounds of Taxol. About four months into it, he told me what's coming next... a two year forced marriage with a fairly new IV drug called Herceptin. He explained further that it was a mere smidgin of hope for the aggressive form of cancer that 1 in 4 women had. He said, "You have an overexpression of a protein in your tumor that causes cells to divide rapidly. This drug (Herceptin) for Her2 + patients has shown promise in the trials, but it hasn't been approved long enough to understand the long-term survival rates. I don't want to get your hopes up, but remember, it is your ray of hope."
Holding on to Hope
I tried to keep a positive outlook, but it was difficult schlepping through the parking lot of the cancer center alone every three weeks for two additional years to get a chemo drug that may not even work. The support groups had long waned, and my friends and family were busy putting their lives back together after the storm. My chemo buddies were all done with their treatments and were back to feeling better, so it was a pretty lonely time. I was so busy feeling sorry for myself, that I didn't realize the gift I was receiving. It would be another year after the completion of the Herceptin treatments before I found out that my teachings as a child might've been correct. I had to wait for proof that I was being cured, but my full head of hair had returned, and I was silently wishing.
A Prophetic Visit
Like most suffering, good things usually come out of tragedies, even though we may not be able to see it at the time. Louisiana has been experiencing a regrowth like never before post-Katrina. One of the nicest additions was our new title of "Hollywood South." We had become the number one film location outside of Los Angeles.
My good friend was a long-time location scout, and he regularly asked if he could show my home to producers because it fit the imagery of a scenic, southern waterway. So when this producer came to my door, I kindly showed him the grounds in my usual manner. When he told me the site wasn't right for this movie, I smiled and asked, "What's the movie about anyway?"
He said, "Oh you wouldn't know it. It's about a man who invented a drug that cured breast cancer."
I said, "You mean... Herceptin?"
He proclaimed, "Oh my, how do you know the name of the drug?"
I said, "Because I wouldn't be here talking to you if it wasn't for that drug."