By Coshandra Dillard
Wilma Jamerson is proud to have another chance at a healthy, happy life — and she’s not taking it for granted.
In 2009, she went for wellness check-up and hadn’t had a mammogram in three years. However, she had been doing self-breast examinations, and her husband, a nurse, had examined her as well. But those examinations aren’t enough.
She wasn’t alarmed when the doctor’s office told her to return for more testing.
“You think, ‘Surely, nothing serious is going to happen to me,’” she said.
A sonogram confirmed there was a small mass and her doctor ordered a biopsy.
“The reason that you really need to let the medical professionals do their jobs is because it was small enough that I could not tell, nor could my husband,” she said.
She underwent radiation therapy daily for four weeks and had a lumpectomy.
Knowing family medical history is important when facing cancer. It was one of the questions posed by her team at the doctor’s office. But in her family, and in that day in time, people didn’t share that information, she said.
“That really wasn’t shared with me, so I had no idea if it was in my family,” she said. “I was kind of in the dark in that particular area.”
What she later found out was that although breast cancer occurs in black women less often than other racial groups, they have the highest breast cancer death rate among minority women. They are 34 percent more likely to die of cancer than white women and more than two times more likely to die of cancer than are Asians, American Indians and Hispanics.
For this reason, she maintains that there is no place for pride after a cancer diagnosis. It should be shared with family.
“Start your dialogue,” Mrs. Jamerson said. “Let your kids know, boys and girls, what’s going on because the caregivers they go through it, too — the whole journey. They are also affected.”
She also learned that estrogen feeds on fat cells.
“OK that’s it, buffet is closed,” she recounted. “I’m shutting it down. That’s what did it for me. That’s something that I had control over — what I put into my body. … I feel my body. I know my body better now because you’re more in tuned to what’s going on with your body.”
Last year she began making significant changes to her lifestyle, and by February of this year, she got even more dedicated. She lost 30 pounds.
She admits that she likes to cook and has a special attachment to fried catfish and homemade brown gravy. But she’s balancing her diet and exercises at least three times each week. She does a variety of exercise, including Zumba, Pilates and lifting weights.
“I love lifting weights, and I love it because it reminds me to be strong,” she said. “At one time, I wouldn’t even move my right arm. I totally protected my right arm and now I’m pumping iron.”
Mrs. Jamerson aims to be consistent in her efforts toward a healthy lifestyle.
“When you know better, you do better, or you should do better,” she said.
Another mission is to make sure other women are proactive in their health. Mrs. Jamerson said lack of health insurance and/or lack of money shouldn’t prevent women from getting the appropriate screenings.
“There are actually philanthropists out there looking for places to donate their money,” Mrs. Jamerson said. “I would start Googling that.”
Her optimistic and warm spirit helped her earn the designation of Hero of Hope, at the American Cancer Society’s 2012 Relay for Life.
Upon diagnosis, she said the initial sentiment is “you’re going to die.”
“That’s’ because you’re not educated. This is my new tagline: a diagnosis is not a death sentence and that was one of the reasons I was asked to be a Hero of hope. I learned later is because of my positive attitude.
But it was her religious faith that helped her find strength through the journey.
“I had to pull out everything I’ve ever learned or knew or heard,” she said. “If I die, to be absent of the body is to be present with the Lord, and if I don’t die, it’s a healing. So I said, ‘OK, either way God, I’m good.’ That’s when I knew I had totally released it unto my faith.”
Her focus has been to help other cancer survivors. Mrs. Jamerson said sometimes removal of a breast leads to insecurities, hence the need for women to support each other.
“It’s almost like a shame,” Mrs. Jamerson said. “You are more than your breasts. You are not breasts walking around in shoes.”
While Mrs. Jamerson believes celebratory events that recognize survivors are a good way to help others, she said the emphasis should be on living past the diagnosis.
“Surviving is bread and water,” she said. “Living is steak. You have this gift now. You survived that. So now what are you going to do with this wonderful gift? It’s that you’re going to honor your body and take care of what God has done and you’re going to share with other people.”