My name is Celeste Hall and I am a Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer patient/survivor. In 2019, I started to experience excruciating pain in my left breast. The pain was strikingly similar to a precancerous papilloma I developed in 2018, so I made it priority to visit my physician.
The ultrasound identified cysts. The treatment, however, was ineffective. Day after day, the pain persisted and worsened; it became debilitating. I experienced difficulty writing and lifting my arm. Hugging was even painful. To me, this level of pain was not consistent with cysts, but with something far worse. So I complained. I scheduled appointments. I requested an MRI. At the time, I did not feel that I was being heard. It seemed as if some doctors thought that my symptoms were imaginary and suggested that I simply “avoid caffeine,” because caffeine tends to change hormone levels and causes painful breast cysts. No matter how many times I repeated that I do not like chocolate, soda, or coffee and my teas are decaffeinated, that was the only advice I ever received. I knew there had to be more to the pain- caffeine consumption was not causing it.
After waiting weeks for a scheduler to call, I took matters into my own hands and scheduled the MRI myself. I had to take charge of my situation; I’d endured the pain long enough. On my birthday this year, my MRI results came back. Unfortunately, they returned more than even I anticipated- an advanced stage of Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Later, a PET Scan found that there was even more spreading, affecting my vertebrae. Thus, cancer and cancer treatment were suddenly my new normal- an invisible jacket I wear on my back every day.
When I began to lose my hair, and my skin and nails began to change from the chemotherapy, shame set in. I desired support, but cancer felt like a dirty awful secret, so I hid it from everyone around me and demanded they keep my secret, too. What would people think-how would people react if they knew? Overnight, cancer became another oppressor, without regard to my education or success level. Cancer became my fate- I was forced to realize my own mortality. Cancer became a career changer.
I’ve been working since I was 14 years old, with every step, and misstep, in an effort to establish my place, my story… to become a self sufficient, highly sought after, minority business owner. I am a self-employed Licensed Therapist in private practice. Is this where it ends – too ill and exhausted to work, turning down potential clients and current client appointments because chemo was breaking my body and attacking my own mental health? Filing for disability? Unemployment? Feeling broken and ashamed, undeserving, and overqualified for assistance?
Then one day, after working up the courage to chat with a good friend, he told me that cancer, hair loss and other physical changes, are all a part of my humanity. That simple statement resonated with me. I am the helper. I am in the profession of healing others, yet I am failing at my own fight with mental health. He was the catalyst for raising money to support this cause. Although this diagnosis comes with significant challenges – pain, loss, changes to the quality of my life – for me, it has also come with gratitude, an increase in strength, hardened determination, and renewed purpose. It has bolstered my faith.
Breast cancer has become a part of my story, our collective stories, but it does not have to be the entire story or the only story. We get to choose, and I choose hope. I did not have a choice when cancer chose this body, but I do have a choice in how I respond to it, how I wish to live, and how cancer influences my perspective. I am a conqueror – as a role model, a helper, a friend, and all the other various roles I play in my life.
I will approach each day with positivity and light and do my best to be an active and mindful part of life as often as possible. The health of your mind can be pivotal in your journey. Be intentional about making each moment count. Educate yourselves and others. Advocate for yourselves, and then teach others how to be their best advocates – for themselves and those without voices. Speak up and push harder when doctors push back. If you do not feel comfortable with your doctors, choose other ones. Schedule conference calls to have your questions answered and needs met. Fight hard for the care you deserve.
Education and advocacy saves lives. I am very fortunate and grateful to be in the exceedingly capable hands of the physicians at Kaiser Permanente. They fight with me daily! Dr. Cooper. Dr. Zulu, Ghazala, my chemo team! They, along with my family, friends, and church family, have been my biggest champions.