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Black women are more affected by breast cancer than any other ethnic group. Research has shown that patients with black breast cancer have a mortality rate of 31%, which is the highest among racial groups. While many black women have succumbed to the deadly disease, there are countless survivors who have an inspiring story, and Rebecca Crews is one of them.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Crews went to her annual physical examination and insisted that she have an ultrasound performed as a result of her mammogram. The ultrasound revealed a small lump in her right breast, and a biopsy revealed that she had stage 1 breast cancer. She chose a double mastectomy so she could avoid radiation therapy. She was able to undergo her surgery before the country went through a shutdown. Crews had to recover after a life-saving procedure at home while the country tried to avoid the deadly COVID-19 virus.
MADAMENOIRE spoke with Crews to reflect on her diagnosis and recovery a year late in honor of the month of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Crews talked about her source of hope, recovering from a pandemic, and how being a survivor has changed her outlook on life.
MADAMENOIRE: What was your source of hope as you went through so many emotions after finding out your diagnosis? Did you go to therapy or pastoral counseling?
Rebecca Crews: My source of hope was my sense of the presence of the Holy Ghost within me. Before I got my diagnosis, I had a feeling something was wrong. I felt the voice in me say to me “Rebecca, if they find anything, be radical. Cut it off and rebuild it, stop playing.” So in a way, I had already received instructions before my diagnosis. There was a steely calm that came over me when I got the phone call … Just a resolute feeling of pushing myself rather than fighting this disease and expecting to win. I did not waver, I did not waver, and I immediately went into the house and told it to my husband. In the weeks that followed, I asked my prayer chain to pray for me, and I talked to my pastor about the fact that I had already decided on the battle plan I was going to carry out. Their advice simply served as an assurance of what I already knew.
MN: Why a double mastectomy? Would you recommend this to other breast cancer patients?
RC: I underwent the double mastectomy primarily so that I would not have to worry about the other for the rest of my life. I thought it seemed silly to chase left breast for the next 10 years, worrying. I figured if I had cancer in one, there would be a good chance I would get it in the other. So I chose the double. Would I necessarily recommend this? No, I think each person has to make their own decision, but that was mine.
MN: You went through this in the early days of the COVID pandemic. How was it? How did it affect your treatment?
RC: Thank God I was able to be diagnosed and plan my surgery two weeks before the country shut down. I am very grateful for the time of it because I would have had to wait a year to have surgery. During my surgery and treatment, my son had been cast on his first show. That was part of the reason I put a little pressure on my surgeons to get me booked. I knew I would soon be taking him to work, so I wanted to be there and get myself for my child. Of course, I had no idea that COVID-19 would come to America. The pandemic allowed me to rest and recover because everything shut down, including my son’s production.
MN: How did your journey against breast cancer affect your marriage?
RC: It made my husband appreciate me more! He was pretty scared when I told him that, because his mother was battling cancer and died of a complication of her chemotherapy. So I had to hold my husband up a little bit, hit him in the face and say to him “I need you to be strong.” And that was him! He was standing next to me, he was praying with me, he was accompanying me to the surgery, and he was there when I woke up. In the weeks during the shutdown, he cleaned the house, he made the meals, and he did his best to just let me sleep and restore my body. He was a true master.
MN: How has your lifestyle changed now that you are surviving breast cancer?
RC: I eat less meat, I grow something called intermittent fasting every day, I do not make dairy, and I make much more juice to keep nutrients in my system that fight cancer in the body. I also try to keep my stress level down and rest more. I also do not take on more than I can handle and I am better at saying no to people.
MN: What would you tell women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer who have difficulty coping?
RC: Have faith in God. There’s someone out there who’s bigger than you looking after you and he’s available when you call. He is your father, he loves you dearly and he will help you through your storm. Get support from people who have been through what you are going through, but do not necessarily assume that your journey will be like theirs, because yours is unique. Pray and have positive expectations. Imagine well. Even science has proven that positive people recover better.