Lois Gallien is my first cousin on my mother’s side of the family. She is the glue in the Gallien family of eight siblings, a Christian, and a single mother. Nearly four years ago, on her son’s birthday, her life changed forever.
“I had no abnormal medical symptoms,” Gallien said. “During a routine breast examination, my doctor felt a lump in my left breast.” The lump was not easy to detect because her breasts were dense.
The Vail Valley Medical Center defines dense breasts as tissue comprised of less fat and more connective tissue, which appears white on a mammogram. Cancer also appears white on a mammogram; thus, tumors are often hidden behind the dense tissue. Approximately 40 percent of woman have dense breasts; however, as a woman ages, her breasts usually become more fatty.
“I will never forget the date, August 16, 2013,” she said. “My son Nicholas was celebrating his 20th birthday.”
She decided to stay calm and not tell anyone until the results from her tests were completed.
“A few days later, I was scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound followed by a biopsy,” Gallien said. Titanium markers were placed during her biopsy. The permanent markers identify the area where the breast tissue was removed.
After about five days, Dr. Mary Ice, director of the Breast Center at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, told her the results. “Your lump was malignant and you have stage 2 cancer,” Dr. Ice said. “We have good doctors here and because you have a strong belief in your faith, I will assign you to a Christian surgeon. Dr. Liz Lee.”
“Dr. Ice scheduled me for MRI and PET scans, and an x-ray to determine the course of treatment,” Gallien said.
“It was emotional to hear that and I cried,” Gallien said. “But I felt confident that I was in good, caring hands.”
When I got home, I told Nicholas, my son.
“Momma, are you going to die? If not, then I’m all right,” he said. “I’m going to believe what you believe.”
Gallien conducted research about medical breakthroughs and trends to treat cancer. She was surprised to learn how cancer has become a global epidemic partly due to the lack of medical help in many countries as well as a variety of herbal and vitamin supplements that promise to fight against cancer.
In 2000, the French government designated a day in February to raise cancer awareness worldwide and established World Cancer Day, which was adopted at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris. The impact of World Cancer Day is increasing with more than 900 events taking place in 129 countries and has become the platform to launch initiatives such as the 2017 “We can. I can” campaign.
“This World Cancer Day we want to inspire individuals to play an active role in the fight against cancer, by being physically active. Around a third of all cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and leading a less sedentary lifestyle,” said Union for International Cancer Control CEO Dr. Cary Adams. “A large number of people also find exercise to be of great benefit to their well-being either during or after treatment. The ‘We can. I can.’ campaign is in its second year and we hope to build on the success of last year and spread the message further than ever.”
The UICC reports that in 2017, at least 20 national governments used the day as an opportunity to join the movement and contributed to adding real value to the cancer cause. Many cancer survivors also raised their voice to advocate for a cancer-free world and increase awareness through their own experience with the disease. In less than two decades, it is estimated that cancer will directly affect up to 21.7 million people per year.
“Anyone can get involved in sport, so it’s a great fit for World Cancer Day. Regular exercise is one of the most simple and fun ways that people worldwide can reduce their cancer risk,” UICC President Sanchia Aranda said. “The messages around sport also link back to our cancer messages about the importance of healthy eating, supporting one another to achieve common goals and working together.”
UICC is the largest international cancer-fighting organization, with over 1,000 member organizations across 160 countries representing the world’s major cancer societies, ministries of health, research institutes, treatment centers and patient groups.
“As soon as I found out my results, I wanted to rid my body of cancer by taking herbal supplements and not undergo chemo treatments,” Gallien said. “However, my brother who is a radiologist recommended not taking supplements that were not FDA approved.”
Gallien belongs to a prayer ministry and decided to let God guide her next steps.
“My decision to go forward with the medical treatment was based on a chance pairing with a woman who was an oncologist nurse,” Gaillien said. “She gave me healing scriptures which put my spirit at peace.”
Gallien received the confirmation she needed to go ahead with chemo treatment.
On Oct. 1, 2013, under anesthesia, a port was inserted to prepare her for the chemotherapy treatments.
“I entered a room of recliners,” Gallien said. “I was assigned a chair and the IV is inserted into the port. Treatment was three hours a day, one day a week for six weeks. There was no adverse reaction.”
After the six weeks of chemotherapy, the cancerous mass shrunk to a pea size to make the surgery easier, more manageable, and less invasive. Surgery was scheduled two weeks later on March 25, 2014. “A lump and a few surrounding lymph nodes were removed to ensure success,” Gallien said. “Dr. Lee told me that all the cancer was removed.”
The healing process continued with radiation for 15 minutes a day for six weeks.
“In May 2014, I had completed the treatment and was in remission,” Gallien said. “The nine-month process was like giving birth to a new life.”
Only Aunt Gertrude had breast cancer and a single mastectomy.
“She lived to be 95 years, had a pacemaker, and was a chain smoker most of her life,” Gallien said. “My family genes are strong and along with my faith, more exercise and healthier eating, I am hopeful that I will be a long-term survivor.”
World Cancer Day – www.worldcancerday.org
National Cancer Institute – www.cancer.gov
World Health Organization – www.who.int/en
Union for International Cancer Control – www.uicc.org
Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to email@example.com and look for her column in The Wave.