In 1988, Melva Lyles, a bed management coordinator at Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, felt a lump in her right underarm. She blamed it on her deodorant and perfume. As the knot grew, she went to five different doctors. “But I didn’t listen to them,” she says. “I thought I knew more than them.”
One doctor convinced her to have a needle aspiration, but she didn’t go back for the results right away. Her son was graduating from high school and she was busy. When she finally returned, she discovered she had late-stage cancer.
She had a radical mastectomy and entered a chemotherapy clinical trial at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. That was in 1988, and she is still monitored for long-term results of the trial.
“I’m cancer free, but no one uses the term. I feel wonderful. Before the cancer, I had a great job, but I neglected my life and my faith. Cancer re-introduced me to my faith. And it introduced me to wonderful people,” Melva says.
She met some of those people in support groups and other cancer-related organizations. She is involved in Celebrating Life, a group that raises money for education and support. One of its projects is a Call 10 program. Members call 10 people and encourage them to have a mammogram. Those 10 call 10 more people. Melva is featured in an upcoming book about Celebrating Life.
“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she says. “I believe the way we approach it affects our outcome. We have to fight — even on the hard days.
“I thank God for the opportunity to have cancer. I learned to be compassionate. At one time, money was everything to me. I discovered I could have wealth or health. I chose health.”
Asked about advice for others facing the disease, Melva says: “Don’t go to the doctor alone. Find a confidante, someone you trust. Be honest with that person and yourself. Do what you need to do, even when you don’t feel like it. Know your body, and involve your partner in your health. Let your family be involved. Join a support group. Trust in God.”