We Beat Breast Cancer: A Story of Family, Faith, Survival

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When we inevitably face trials in our lives it helps to have a strong and sturdy support system close at hand. This is true when it comes to dealing with everyday life pressures or even the scariest health crisis. Most of us have known the strength and courage of our mothers. What if your mother is one that needs you? What if years later, you need your mother to uplift and encourage you … in very similar fights? Tosha and Janie know exactly what that feels and looks like.

In 1992, Janie, mother of Tosha, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She calls the time of her diagnoses the “dark ages” however, breast cancer was well known and effecting so many families. She states how at some point in her life, she said if she was ever faced with a life-threatening disease, she would opt out of surgery and let the course take her wherever it would. But, at the time of her fight, she looked into the eyes of 9-year-old Tosha and that was all she needed to change her mind and to increase her fight and faith.

“This was the decision that God and I had made and I just went forward with whatever was put into my path”, she recalls. “My oncologist connected me with a support group [and] someone came to visit before I left the hospital. … and I went to sessions afterward and went ahead with what was best for me. Each case is unique.” Her breast cancer was treated with six months of chemotherapy and she got on with her life – as well as her fight – January 1993, while teaching at the college level. All the while, Tosha was watching, not knowing that the fight her mother was facing would one day be her own.

It seems that by birthright, Tosha was destined to be a fighter. She recalls the era that her mother went through her battle with breast cancer and as a child, she says that the only stories she knew of cancer was that people usually died. “My mom is going to die. That’s all I could think about,” she says. However, through it all, her mother showed tremendous strength and took her daughter on a promised Thanksgiving trip to Disney.

She recalls at the age of 29 in June as her diagnosis date. She remembers that the news didn’t come immediately, and as the saying goes, “no news is good news.” Right? Well, the week following her biopsy of a mysterious mass in her breast, her doctor’s office contacted her to let her know that she too, would be in the fight of her life. Like her mom. “So I walk into the doctor’s office thinking everything is good and she came in and closed the door. I could look at her face and tell that something’s not right,” she recalls of that day. The doctor went on to say that the news was “not what they wanted to hear.”

This threw Tosha into a bit of a tailspin due to her believing that her young age and health-conscious behavior would have made a difference in her diagnosis. In her disbelief, she first questioned the doctor, then went through every emotion possible and then right into fight mode. “I never thought ‘Oh my god, I’m going to die from this. I thought ‘we’re going to get through this. You will be fine!’” She went straight to the faith that she learned from her mother and the planning began. She informed the doctor on the spot that she wanted a double mastectomy. No questions asked. This was a decision she made in grad school while getting a degree in public health when pondering the possibility of if she were to get breast cancer.

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By the time Tosha was diagnosed, Janie was a fierce cancer fighter and had the faith of 10 million mustard seeds and was exactly who Tosha needed in her corner. An experienced warrior. She says that, remarkably, she had little fear. From our brief conversation, Tosha projects as a strong, self-assured woman who has, this thing called life, all together. So, from what I can tell, she did what any strong, determined woman does best: She planned. She lined up a strong line of defense in her doctors and specialists and they all worked together to get her to ultimate health.

Today, nearly 40 years later for Janie and 20+ years later for Tosha, Janie sees their story as one. “I think [my fight] might have helped Tosha because I had already been through what she was about to go through,” she explained. Part of her advice to her daughter was to use her voice and ask the questions that she needed answers to. They sat together and jotted down the questions that they wanted to ask the doctor about what was happening and what was going to happen. “Once you get a cancer diagnosis, you’re never not on guard. I have a team,” Janie said. Every doctor that she visits she shares the same questions with them all.

Tosha and Janie’s faith is stronger than ever and they are fearless. They’ve faced the lion and won. Janie has also taken a cue from Tosha who is a strict healthy eater and workouts out on a regular basis. Janie is indeed a force to be reckoned with. And Tosha, with support from her personal-trainer husband (they were dating at the time of her diagnosis), she is a trial-by-fire force.

Jatika Patterson