Roughly one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime as it’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. One woman undergoing treatment right now is Monica Butler. This is the 41-year-olds second time to be diagnosed with breast cancer and undergo radiation treatment. Butler was shocked when she got her first diagnosis around four years ago.
“I woke up one morning, and I just had excruciating pain in my breast,” she said. “But I was like I’m about to turn 38, I’m not drinking as much as I should. It’s my body telling me to get it together.”
Butler said she went on with her morning and went to work like normal.
“And I told one of my co-workers ‘I woke up, and there was this horrible pain,’ and she made this face,” Butler recalled. “And when she did that, I was thinking, ‘I should probably get this looked at.’”
She went to her doctor the same day, and they weren’t able to find anything. After a few weeks, the pain finally went away.
“But it came back after about three months or so,” she said. “But this time, instead of being in one breast and kinda easing up, it was in both breasts, and the pain would not let up. It was this constant, sharp, almost like an electric bolt running through both of my breasts, and it wouldn’t stop.”
After expecting it to go away like it did last time, she made another appointment. While waiting for that appointment, she felt a lump.
“And shortly after that is when I got that phone call,” Butler said. “That first phone call, ‘we’re sorry to tell you, but you’ve tested positive for breast cancer.’”
Butler says it was a surprise to her at 37 because she didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, she didn’t fit into the lifestyle factors and she breastfed her three kids. That excruciating pain that wouldn’t go away the second time, how long did it last?
“Once I got all my testing done, and once I got that diagnosis, the pain went away before my first treatment,” she said. “So I’ve always looked at it as the Lord telling me ‘get yourself looked at.’”
After going through all her treatment, tests showed her cancer was gone. That is until she was diagnosed with it again.
“It wasn’t a recurrence, it was me developing a new primary that wasn’t there before, and so that added to the shock factor,” she said. “Like, how is this happening again?”
She said she was diagnosed with what’s called triple-negative both times.
“The thing about triple-negative is it has the least amount of treatment options, it is very aggressive, it has a very high rate of recurrence, but it also responds very well to chemotherapy,” Butler said. “So there are some positives to it as well if you can call it a positive.”
Butler said her faith, family, and friends are the ones helping her to stay strong to fight breast cancer, especially for the second time. She’s getting radiation treatments at the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma in Lawton. Right now, she’s going to the center five days a week for her radiation treatment.
“I think all of the staff really understand at what point in people’s lives they’re meeting them,” she said.
Butler utilizes the center’s free transportation program for patients, so they pick her up for her treatments and take her back to work. She said, because of her experience, she recommends the center every time she hears someone has been diagnosed with cancer.
“They’re a little iffy because you know its Lawton versus the big city,” Butler said. “No, this is fine. This place, they do good work here, and you can tell they really do have their patients’ best interest at heart.”
Dr. Manal Robin, a doctor at the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma who is also a certified breast cancer physician, encourages others to get their mammograms done as the number of women with breast cancer is increasing.
“The prevalence didn’t change,” Dr. Robin said. “It is increasing because of different circumstances of life. COVID has, unfortunately, has caused us to kind of forget about our screening, but it is still very important. Please remember that mammogram is a lifesaver.”
Butler encourages people to listen to their bodies.
“If you’ve got something screaming at you like the silent killer, get it checked out,” Butler said. “You are always going to be your biggest advocate and your best advocate. You just have to understand that you’re worth the fight.”
Butler finishes her treatment at the end of this month. She said after that, she’ll need to have routine scans.