Five years ago I got a notification from journalist, Kimberley Wilson with Essence magazine, asking me to write about losing my sister Donna to breast cancer. I wondered first off, how did she find me and know that I lost my sister? But even more so, I was a little reluctant about writing about the experience because of the fear it would take me back and put me in a very emotional and sad place.
That thought quickly went away and I decided to write from the heart and send in my story to honor my first friend in life, my best friend ever, who I lost to breast cancer at the age of 37.
Because this is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I decided to add my excerpt of the story to my blog post. Below is my story, as edited by journalist, Kimberley Wilson:
Donna Brewster was the older sister to Julie Harbour (pictured above) by three years and the second to the youngest in their family of six children. Because of the gaps in age of the children, their other four siblings were teens or out of the house when they were born, and as such, they were extremely close.
As the older sister to Julie, Donna was always protective of her younger sister. Julie recalls, “She would sometimes say, ‘don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay’. A phrase I know many cancer patients use because they worry about how their loved ones are feeling about their diagnosis.”
“It hurt my soul, when she passed,” Julie shares. “She wanted so much for her life, and she wouldn’t be able to achieve the goals she set before her.”
On her journey with her sister throughout her fight: I can still vividly remember the day I received that call from my sister Donna saying, “I found a hard lump under my arm.” She explained that while she was walking around her apartment, she ran into a door jam and discovered the mass. I sat in my office, at the American Cancer Society (ACS) stunned, but hopeful it was nothing. I definitely thought to myself, breast cancer at her age? No way. I went on to tell her that based on my time with the ACS (8 years) and from what I knew, women at age 35 weren’t diagnosed with breast cancer very often and it couldn’t be cancer.
Donna told me she was scheduled for a biopsy to find out what was going on. A few days later, my mother called to confirm that my worst fears were realized. My sister had breast cancer. And I was wrong. Donna was very secretive about her prognosis and my family didn’t really talk about it or her decision to decline the cancer treatment suggested by her oncologists. She told me she refused to be “burned”, in what she deemed a very, very aggressive treatment plan. She would instead use holistic methods alone to fight the disease. No one really gave her any resistance about what she chose to do with her body, and the one friend who chose to say something was alienated.
In the year and a half before she passed, Donna immersed herself in her faith and giving back to the community, until her pain was too much. I also remember getting a call from her after a childhood friend of ours had passed away in his sleep, at age 33. The call was painful for both of us as we cried and as she proclaimed, “I thought I would be gone, first.” Donna moved in with my parents eventually, and my mother became her caregiver. There were many, many trips to holistic doctors who prescribed natural remedies to cure her. The cancer literally started to ravage her body and one night while experiencing shortness of breath, she called her doctor inquire about starting treatment, over a year later. She passed a few months after beginning her treatment.
Keeping her legacy alive: By giving out pink ribbons during BCA month, supporting friends who are fighting the disease and by having my exams every year! I started early (age 32) because of her diagnosis and the prevalence of the disease in my family. My eldest sister, Beverly is a breast cancer survivor.
Her legacy lives on when I tell her story. Hopefully I can help someone in their fight to utilize both holistic and conventional medicine to cure their cancer. After her passing, while at the American Cancer Society I gave presentations to community based organizations and groups about cancer prevention, early detection and risk reduction. I was also invited to attend the Susan G. Komen’s Pink Saves Fashion Show here in Los Angeles as media to showcase their event in 2017 to honor breast cancer survivors and the angels that supported them during their fight against cancer.
That is only part of my story, as this disease has stricken and taken many of my family members.
According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, there are differences by age. Among women younger than 40, African-American women have higher rates of breast cancer compared to Caucasian women.
Ladies, please remember that it is important to have regular breast cancer screening and to get to know your breasts via self-examination.
Until next time, love and light!