Survivor Stories

Viola Epps

Viola Epps

My Breast Cancer Journey

On August 14, 2009 as I was preparing to celebrate my Mom's s1st Birthday in a few weeks. I was deciding what I was going to wear to her party. In trying on various clothing, I notice that my breast was very sensitive to putting my tops on and off. I thought, well I must be getting ready to have my monthly cycle. The next day as I am cleaning myself in the shower my left breast became very painful to any touch. I place my heating pad on my breast and at the same time trying to recollect when I could have possibly injured myself bumping into the wall or object. On that Monday, August 17, 2009 I contacted by Gynecologist to seek any medical advice on what I could to address and get rid of the pain. Although I had had my annual well health visit her back in May 2009 she wanted me to make a follow up appointment so that she could examine me again. So for the next 2 weeks I went from the heating pad to cold compresses to try and ease the pain that had getting worse as each week progressed. My appointment was on September 10, 2009. My doctor examined me and asked a series of questions. I informed her the about the severity of the pain. We discussed my May 2009 negative results of my annual mammogram. I express concerned on the 2 lumps that I felt in my left breast. She completed another order to have a follow breast exam to include a breast ultrasound. I was able to get that appointment within a few days on September 15, 2009. The Ultrasound tech that conducted the exam was very concerned with the level of pain that I was expressing, ending with an incomplete exam due to the severe pain.

In conversation back with my Gynecologist she now gives me an order to see a breast surgeon to get scheduled a breast biopsy. I first had to have a preliminary visit on September 29, 2009 with the surgeon, so that he could examine and discuss the procedure of the biopsy. On October 19, 2009 I was scheduled for a left breast biopsy. I was extremely anxious on the day of the visit, simply due to the fact that my tolerance level for pain is a -5 and I did not know what to expect. My Mom and two sisters accompanied me to the exam. As I was prepped for the procedure the surgeon verbally reassured me that the procedure was not painful nor did it take a long period of time. He was a very well renowned surgeon from Howard University Hospital, my sister knew him and so I trusted his word. He numbed the area and showed me the needle that he would be using to collect the specimen and to get proper amount for testing. "Good golly miss molly" I began to holler, because it was extremely painful. The doctor asked me to stop hollering because I would scare the other patients. I said well I holler when I am in pain, I'm sorry it hurts so badly. The procedure took about 45 minutes in total, to include the pain breaks and to collect the proper amount of specimen. The surgeon shared that he will be sending the biopsy for testing and will contact me to schedule an appointment to go over the results.

On October 26, 2009 I had a follow up appointment with my Hematologist because I suffered from blood clots with a rare genetic blood disorder. During the exam, a doctor in the practice and I were in conversation, when he stated (I remember like it was yesterday) "you had a breast biopsy recently didn't you?" I replied yes but, the results are probably not back yet because the surgeon had not contacted me! "He said, just a minute let me go and check". So I wait in the exam room for about 12-15 minutes. Mind you, I have been seeing these doctors in this practice since June 2004. He returned to exam room and without taking a breath he said, "Oh yeah you have Breast Cancer" I said, what did you say? He repeated it without missing a beat "You have Breast Cancer" the flood gates of tears began to uncontrollably pour down my face. I lived approximately 15 minutes away and on this day ... it took me about 2 hours to get home. (I had to keep pulling over to get my emotions under control). I shared the results with my husband upon arrival at home, he wept badly. I had never seen him this emotional before. I told him, with GOD we will get through this. He was scheduled for Achilles reconstruction surgery in 3 days. My entire family, especially my sister was livid with the Hematologist lack of bedside manner in the delivery of my diagnosis.

My surgeon and I did have a conversation regarding my diagnosis and he too was disappointed of how the results were given to me. He scheduled a series of exam to assist him in determining what stage of breast cancer I had. I was diagnosed with "Stage 3 - triple negative breast cancer in the left breast" three masses were observed, with the largest being 3 centimeters. My surgeon expressed concerned and wanted me to begin aggressive chemotherapy immediately.

On November 5, 2009 I had 5 lymph nodes removed from my left axillary, with 4 showing positive Grade Ill infiltrating duct carcinoma with 1 identified as have extra capsular extension and a left port-a-cath insertion. On November 12, 2009 I began my first of 6 sessions of chemotherapy. During the next 7 months, I underwent several MRl's, CAT scans, PET scans, Bone scan, sonograms and x-rays. Although I had some set-backs (port-a-cath replacement, complicated illness/side effects and changing Hematologist). On March 11, 2010 I was diagnosed as being CANCER FREE. Hallelujah and Thank GOD! On May 11, 2010 I completed my last chemotherapy session.

Now it was time for me to have Radiation treatment 5 days a week for the next 3 months. (Initially it was for 7 weeks but I began bleeding after the 3rd treatment and had to pulse for 12 days for the bleeding to stop and my skin to heal (remember I was still on blood thinners for my blood clots). On May 17, 2009 I began my baking and burning treatments, also known as Radiation. I completed my last radiation treatment on August 13, 2010. Since that day I have been under the care of my third, final and best Hematologist/Oncologist. I see her every 3 months for an evaluation and assessment. I have not been on any medication for my Breast Cancer, THANK YOU GOD! I have however, been greatly concerned about COVID 19 since I fall under the high risk group with a compromised immune system. I take this virus very seriously and with great caution and approach. I only go out of my home when absolutely positively necessary, in which I am masked, face-shield and gloved up. It scares me, because of the life-long affect. You can recover but only fully get rid of the COVID 19 with a double lung transplant.

I have a total of 5 surgeries to include a removal of lymph nodes, port-a-cath placement, Bilateral Mastectomy (83 staples), IVC Filter placement (to stop my blood clots from becoming P.E.'s or having an Aneurysm), port-a-cath replacement and Breast Reconstruction/Breast Reduction.

I have been in remission for 10 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 2 days! PRAISE GOD, FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW! My Family supported so much during MY entire journey. I was BLESSED to have my MOM, MY HUBBY and MY 2 AMAZING SISTERS. I trusted GOD through my entire journey! HE simply stated that you will not look like what you've been through. My scars are my daily reminders that GOD had a plan to use me to display his mighty works and that HE is still in the Healing and Blessing business, NO OTHER THAN GOD has brought me to the Strong Survivor that I am today. I will NEVER stop Praising GOD and for all HE has done for me. As stated in ... Numbers 6:24-26 "The Lord bless and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you Peace. Thank you GOD ALMIGHTY FATHER! YOU ARE THE LORD OF LORDS, KING OF KINGS, THE ALPHA & OMEGA, Bless YOUR NAME SWEET JESUS, BLESS YOUR NAME!!!! Amen ...

"The Lord bless and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you Peace." - Numbers 6:24-26

Care Package Recipient Application

In keeping with our goal to help as many survivors as we financially can, we have created a simplified criteria for the identification and selection of gift and care package recipients. The selection criteria is as follows:

To be considered to receive a gift or care package from She Still Smiles, a breast cancer survivor shall:

  • Reside in the Washington D.C., Maryland or Virginia (DMV) area;
  • Be recommended by a board, committee or volunteer of She Still Smiles Inc;
  • Provide a nomination letter telling the story of their journey with a minimum of 500 words;
  • Agree to allow their story to be shared on the She Still Smiles website

The selection process shall be as follows:

  • Nomination letters will be independently reviewed and ranked 1 thru 10 by each board member
  • The Vice Chair shall be responsible for tallying the boards rankings to determine a consensus
  • The Chair shall have final approval of the recommendations or may request a reassessment

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