Twenty years ago, I became one of the more than 4 million women in America who are breast cancer survivors. As I reflect on this milestone, my heart is brimming with gratitude and a renewed drive to raise awareness about the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” the Lord declares. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
At age 36, I discovered a lump in my breast as I was traveling with family to St. Kitts for a birthday celebration. As soon as I got home, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to embark on further exploration. Following a mammogram, a sonogram and a needle-stick biopsy, my worst fears were realized — it was breast cancer.
The discovery added a great deal of uncertainty to a particularly active chapter of my life. At the time I was working full-time as the assistant executive director of the North Hempstead Housing Authority, and studying for a master’s in public administration at LIU Post.
Amid this personal adversity, however, my thoughts turned to softening the impact of this news for my friends and loved ones. When it came time to break the news to my family, I put on my bravest face and told them, “I have a plan in effect, and everything’s going to be all right.” But despite my confident presentation, there were many hurdles.
After I started a course of chemotherapy early in treatment, I was treated for a rare allergic reaction that sent me into anaphylactic shock. Later I was hospitalized with neutropenia, a serious condition in which my neutrophils — a type of white blood cell — dropped to dangerously low levels. As my support circle reassured me that I would rebound, my thoughts turned to the Bible, and Jeremiah 29:11.
I soon learned that those plans included a tremendous groundswell of love and support. One of the examples I will always carry with me is the generosity of my family and friends — and my colleagues at the North Hempstead Housing Authority. As a relatively new employee, I had accrued only a small amount of sick leave, and it was being consumed quickly amid my treatment. But Loreen, Dolly, Frann and Susan donated their time off to ensure my continued care and give me some much-needed peace of mind. I will be forever grateful to these women — my friends for life — for their generosity.
After completing chemotherapy and radiation, I finished my master’s, continued my advocacy for affordable housing in 15 years at the helm of the Huntington Housing Authority, served on the Westbury Board of Education, and since 2014 have been blessed with the humbling privilege of representing the residents of Nassau County’s 2nd Legislative District.
All of this was made possible by the love and support of my friends and family, the expertise of outstanding medical professionals, and the practices that led to prompt detection and treatment. For Black women, that is especially crucial. According to the American Cancer Society, we are more likely than white women to develop breast cancer before age 40, as I did. Furthermore, Black women have the highest death rate from breast cancer among any racial or ethnic group. A large factor in that sobering statistic is the fact that one in five of us develop triple-negative breast cancer, which tends to grow and spread faster, has fewer treatment options, and usually has a worse prognosis.
Given these troubling statistics and the prevalence of this disease on Long Island, advocacy has been a significant part of my life as a survivor. My office will partner with NuHealth to bring the Nassau University Medical Center breast cancer screening van to the Lakeview Public Library, at 1120 Woodfield Road in Rockville Centre, on Oct. 26, and to Magnolia Gardens, at 899 Broadway in Westbury, on Nov. 2.
From 8:15 a.m. to noon on both dates, women over age 40 who have not been screened in more than a year can receive services including a breast exam by a nurse, a mammography, and self-examination instructions like the ones that led me to the discovery of my own breast cancer. Appointments are free for uninsured women based on eligibility guidelines, and you can make an appointment by calling my office, at (516) 571-6202, while supplies last.
If you have not undergone testing in some time, please heed the lessons of my own experiences and avail yourself of this opportunity. I am living proof that abundant life can be on the horizon after a breast cancer diagnosis — but we must take a courageous first step to begin that journey.
Siela A. Bynoe, of Westbury, represents Nassau County’s 2nd Legislative District.