Breast cancer has been a part of Elise Harris’ life for decades. Her mother and grandmother each passed away from the disease when they were in their 40s. Elise is a three-time breast cancer survivor. This is her story in her own words.
My mom had breast cancer twice. She told me and my sister to become familiar with our bodies. My mom was 47 when she died, and my grandmother was 44. My mother had always told us about our grandmother and breast cancer and how she died.
The first time my mother had breast cancer, she found the lump. It was pretty big. She had surgery, a mastectomy and she went through chemotherapy. She lost weight; she lost her hair. She told me and my sister, “Look at me, because this could happen to you one day.”
When her cancer came back, it had spread. My mother had chemo again. My sister and I helped her; we took turns staying with her. She died in 1991.
Eleven years later, May 2002, I found a lump in my breast. I was 36. I thought of my mother. In my head, I just knew I was going to die. A week later, tests confirmed it was breast cancer, stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. My brother and sister were there with me, and I said, you know what? Let’s go to the movies. We saw Shrek. It was just what I needed. It was so silly and so funny. I laughed and laughed.
I had surgery to remove the tumor and started chemotherapy. I thought of what my grandmother and mother went through, no anti-nausea meds, I remember how sick my mother was. I was able to take anti-nausea with the chemotherapy.
Five years later, when I was 41, little white dots showed up on my scans on my left side. They were little pieces of cancer. I had my left breast removed. I didn’t have to have chemotherapy. I just had to come for follow-ups.
And then comes 2018. I felt something in my breast. An MRI confirmed it. I just lost it. I cried and cried. I’m so glad I had family members with me because I didn’t remember what they told me. They sat with me at the table and the doctors discussed my options, a TRAM flap, where they remove tissue from your stomach and fill in the breast area. The TRAM flap surgery was intense. I was off work for a month and a half. I had tubes and all of that. But I’m still here.
It’s important for me to share my story, because I know how scary breast cancer is. I know women are scared. Breast cancer is scary. But you can’t ignore it because there are deadly consequences. Get your mammograms. Get genetic testing. Consider participating in clinical trials. Knowledge is power. Know what’s going on with your body.
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.