Everyone has a story to tell, no matter who you are, your life is worth talking about.
I was born on June 18, thirty minutes after my identical twin Vanessa. I was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I am a Licensed Practical Nurse.
In 2007, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in her left breast twenty years apart. She was diagnosed at the age 36 and 56. She is still alive to this date. It was then, I had a vivid dream that I would be my mother’s daughter to have to go through this challenge. In this dream, I felt like I would be okay either way. I took care of my mother during this critical time.
I was advised to get mammograms at the age of 27 due to a family history of breast cancer. I never missed a year with getting my mammograms.
On April 26, 2010 at 5:26p.m. I received a phone call while I was preparing dinner for my family, from the St. Louis Breast & Cancer Institute saying “Mrs. Keys, you have Ductal Carcinoma In Situ”. I knew that meant CANCER. The physician told me to call the office in the morning for further details. This was the longest night of my life. I was 37 years young at the time of diagnosis. I called this an “ interruption of life”.
On May 13, 2010 a lumpectomy was performed on my left breast with some lymph node removal. Before this surgery was performed it was suggested for me to have genetic testing done. This test takes about two to three weeks to come back. I wanted the cancer OUT. After the lumpectomy, test results revealed the BRCA-2 gene, formerly known as the breast cancer gene.
I couldn’t imagine having my breast removed as suggested, even with this gene. Me and my surgical oncologist decided to proceed with the close observation approach. This approach includes a lumpectomy (already performed), radiation, mammograms every 6 months instead of annually with MRI induced, Tamoxifen – a drug to be taken for 5 years to prevent breast cancer in the opposite breast.
June and July of 2010 I underwent radiation every day. Weekends were considered rest days. During radiation, I ended up with an infection under my left arm due to using my then favorite antiperspirant, “Secret,” deodorant. Please do not use scented deodorant at all during radiation treatments.
On August 6, 2010, my mother’s 60th birthday, I started Tamoxifen, a drug /medication taken daily to prevent breast cancer in the opposite breast. I took this medication without fail.
October 2010, I had what you call shingles, which is an outbreak of painful blisters, due to a compromised immune system. My immune system was compromised due to previously radiation treatments. The shingles were located in my forehead, a very rare spot. I was originally getting treated as though this was a spider bite. The doctors told me and my husband that the shingles could spread and cause blindness and possible hospitalization. It didn’t spread, it was contagious and very painful … which resulted in me withdrawing from the RN nursing program that I been working toward for 2 years.
Soon after my first mammogram, since breast cancer diagnosis, year 2011 hadn’t really kicked in good enough. My identical twin, Vanessa Robinson's, genetic test results revealed BRCA-2 positive, the breast cancer gene. She decided to have a preventive surgery, a hysterectomy which decreases her chances of developing breast cancer and no chances of developing ovarian cancer. This was January 24, 2011.
No sooner after that I found myself again in the surgery room, not for cancer, but for gallbladder removal due to 1 large irritated gallstone on March 24, 2011. I thought I had a stomach virus.
After I healed from that I made and kept my appointment for post breast cancer, keeping in mind the BRCA-2 status. I was hoping to have my ovaries removed the summer of June, 2011 due to being at risk for ovarian cancer as well.
Well, that didn’t happen because after my second mammogram with MRI induced I was diagnosed with breast cancer again on August 11, 2011 this time in my right breast. No, it didn’t spread from the left breast to the right breast. I was now 39 years young.
It was only 1 year and 5 days since taking the Tamoxifen. I was hoping this one pill would prevent me from having to deal with breast cancer again. At this time , I was under a medical oncologist's care. She told me to go home and throw away the Tamoxifen because it didn’t work for you. She wanted me to make an appointment with my breast surgeon to talk about a double mastectomy because if I didn’t, she said I could be looking at a third cancer with the BRCA-2 gene.
On September 12, 2011, I had a double mastectomy with lymph node removal with tissue expanders put in place. Part of the healing process included physical therapy and emotional therapy and telling my story is healing.
On June 29, 2012, I was undergoing my fourth surgery in 2 years. Two weeks after my 40th birthday, I underwent a Davinci Hysterectomy to decrease my chances for ovarian cancer due to the BRCA-2 gene. During this time of recovery, I was ready to start giving back. It was put on my heart to have a Breast Cancer Awareness Conference “My Strength Is Your Strength”. This name came from everything I’ve been through and for women that may have to take this same journey.
On November 3, 2012, “My Strength Is Your Strength” Breast Cancer Awareness Conference was a great success, with over 120 attendees. I funded this conference mostly with my own monies.
On November 14, 2012, I had to have a surgery known as a “Delay In Tram”. This surgery is required before the actual “TRAM” surgery, the BIG surgery. This surgery will help decrease infection and adequate amount of blood flow for TRAM surgery.
On March 15, 2013, I was headed back in the operating room for my 6th surgery in 2 in a half years. The TRAM surgery(Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous) flap. This surgery was 9 hours and 30 minutes. I was in the hospital for 5 days. This surgery includes using my own tissue for reconstruction surgery. I am very pleased with the results. My abdomen is much flatter.
On March 22, 2012 I was back in the hospital for a infection which should have resulted in another surgery. I remained in the hospital for 2 days. I came home with a wound vac and administering my own intravenous medications. My 15 year old son help change dressing daily.
On April 29, 2013 I returned back to work which is very stressful. On May 31. 2013 will be my last working day and I will follow my passion, which is bringing awareness in many ways. I have started my own 501c3 nonprofit organization “Valeda’s Hope”. “Valeda’s Hope” will present it’s 2nd annual “My Strength Is Your Strength” Breast Cancer Awareness Conference. Saturday November 2, 2013 … 12365 St. Charles Rock Road. Machinists Building … 12p.m.-5p.m.cost $25.00 at the door … $20.00 in advance.
My next and last surgery #7 (nipple reconstruction) is early July 2013.
I am looking forward to working with the Susan G. Komen Foundation very closely. The foundation has provided me with lots of material to bring awareness to our community, family, friends, even strangers. I volunteer regularly for LIVESTRONG ( cancer survivor exercise group held at YMCA), I was a guest speaker for The Breakfast Club Annual 2012 Survivor Celebration. I have volunteered for Gateway To Hope as well.
As I continue to deal with the aftermath of breast cancer I will run my first 5k at the Susan G. Komen 2013 Race. I have been training while recovering from the TRAM surgery. I remain hopeful in every area of my life. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-607-7799 for speaking engagements