By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Tamika Lewis attended her first Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) Sistah Strut in September. The 43-year-old joined the walk because of a “breast cancer scare.”
“I had a pain in my right breast, so I went to the doctor and they did an ultrasound. I had to have a biopsy done, and they found two lumps, … which were benign. The lumps were removed [last year].”
The doctors caught it early, Lewis said.
“I had the pain for a couple of weeks, maybe three or four weeks. I was worried [whether] I was going to be around for my daughter. I have a now-18-year-old. I was just scared. The thought of having breast cancer, even having to go the doctor and having an ultrasound done and then a biopsy. I mean, I literally was crying every day.”
Lewis didn’t tell many people at first.
“I wanted to have my right breast, [where the lumps were found], taken off immediately,” she said. “You hear about people finding out about it and then it spreading. I had made up in my mind that that was the way I wanted to go.
“I prayed about it and was like, ‘God, if I have it, I just want to get it removed as soon as possible.’ I didn’t want to play around with it. … I just wanted to live, period.”
Lewis worried every day.
“I work at a hospital,” she said. “Being in a hospital setting, you know how serious it is. … I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. It was a constant thought.”
Lewis remembered the passage of time.
“It was two or three weeks [after I went to the doctor] when I had the ultrasound. Then it was another week [before] I had the biopsy. It seemed like a year [at the time],” she said. “When your mind doesn’t rest, it’s like time takes forever.
Minute to minute is like a day going by because it’s like you’re a zombie.”
Still, Lewis had to go about her daily tasks.
“You have to still function, go to work, take care of your family, and do everything you would normally do, but you have this big problem that’s front and center,” she said. “Sometimes I would be cooking dinner and almost burn what I was cooking because my mind would drift off into the what-ifs.”
Lewis’s main concern: her daughter, Amari Lewis.
“[She] was in her 12th grade year [at Minor High School], and I tried to keep it from her for a while,” Lewis said. “When I saw I had to have it removed, I had to sit her down. She’s my only child, and that was a lot to put on her plate, … [to] let her know. I told her I wouldn’t hide something like this. I’d had a hysterectomy a couple of years prior, and I kind of kept it from her, and she was worried sick. She said, ‘Don’t do that to me. Don’t not tell me what’s going on because I know something is wrong with you and you won’t tell me.’
“[She] knew something was going on [when I had pains in my breast]. “She’s an intelligent teenager, and she asked, ‘Do you think you have breast cancer?’ She wanted to make sure I was OK.”
That episode had a significant impact on Lewis and her daughter, who now wants to go to the doctor with her “for any and everything.”
“We were already close, but [while I was] going through that, she stayed up under me a whole lot,” Lewis said. “She wanted to make sure I was OK. She wanted to go to my doctor appointments. She lost a couple of pounds worrying about me. … My mom is around, but my daughter and I are really close, so I couldn’t really imagine what her thought process was.”
After her surgery, Lewis recalled smiling, laughing, and crying.
“It was like I’d gotten a clean slate,” she said. “I started traveling more. I started doing more community service. It’s amazing how your life can change with just a couple of words: [cancer-free]. It makes you think about stuff that you should be doing, stuff you don’t want to think about but should. It makes you look at your friendships. It gives you a good outlook on life.”
Lewis said she also found strength she didn’t know the she had.
“I know I’m a strong person, but to go to work for 12 hours, get off, go to my daughter’s games—she was a cheerleader—and be present and show up for her during her 12th grade year [taught me a lot about] time management,” Lewis said.
“I prayed a lot, trusted my faith to get me through it.”