In mid-2018, Shelia Doyle went to an emergency room because she felt a lump in her right breast. She was told it was a cyst and was sent home. That scene was repeated before she saw her OB who sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound where the imaging doctor matter-of-factly said, “You have cancer. Do you have any questions?”
“I felt like a ton of bricks fell on me,” she says. “All I could do was cry. My husband kept telling me, ‘We’ll get through this.’ I felt the odds were against me. I’m a woman of color over 45, but premenopausal. And I was the first in my family to have cancer.”
A friend suggested she go to Harris Health System. She made an appointment at Strawberry Health Center and was referred to Smith Clinic for a mammogram and ultrasound. It was definitely cancer — stage IIIB. Concerned it may have metastasized, doctors ordered a series of exams.
She started six rounds of chemotherapy at Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital. A mastectomy of her breast turned into a six-hour surgery because the cancer was so aggressive, it had reached the chest wall. After recovery, she began 33 radiation treatments at Smith Clinic.
Shelia finished treatment in July. After her first follow-up mammogram, her oncologist spoke the words she wanted to hear: no evidence of the disease.
“They can get the disease, but the side effects are not always evident,” she says. “We don’t expect them.” She has lymphedema (swelling in her arm), scleroderma (hardening of the skin) and lung damage. “Still, I thank God I’m here to tell my story.”
She leads a careful lifestyle. “I’ve always been a germaphobe, but I want to stay active, so I take Clorox wipes everywhere. I watch what I eat. I limit my sodas, eat more veggies and fruits and avoid fried foods.”
Family was important to Shelia’s recovery. For the first chemo treatment, family came from Dallas to be with her. For the last infusion, she was surrounded by her husband, father and four siblings. Her two children “made sure someone was with me for every treatment.”
She thinks her healthcare team was the best. “My oncologist, Dr. Oluchi Oke, was excellent. They all knew what I could expect and explained it. Their advice was always spot on. For instance, they told me my skin would heal three weeks after radiation. It did.”
She looks forward to a cancer-free future, one she will live to the fullest. She encourages others with cancer to “do more. It may seem hard, but don’t give up. It’s a long journey, but with support, you can make it. Do as your doctors tell you. Trust the medical staff. They know what they’re doing. Be positive.
“Cancer isn’t a life sentence. It’s a life change.”