Paulette Phillippe didn't think breast cancer could strike later in life. But in 2014 after an older client confided to the massage therapist about a breast cancer scare, Paulette, then 70, decided to perform a breast self-exam for the first time in years for "the heck of it." To her dismay, the great- grandmother discovered a lump in her breast. A mammogram confirmed her fears and a biopsy revealed stage 2 B triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive and fast-growing form of the disease.
"I thought at 70, breast cancer wouldn't be something I'd have to worry about," she said, now 74. "I decided to fight this disease because I didn't want to put my family through another death," referring to the loss of her 15-year- old grandson years earlier.
As Paulette battled cancer she realized the disease not only afflicts the survivor, but also the survivor's family. "You don't have breast cancer in isolation," she said. "It's a family disease. I saw the faces of my family. They watched as I lost my hair, my eyelashes, my appetite and how I couldn't handle strong smells because of the treatment."
As if that were not enough, she then experienced "chemo fog." "My mind went blank and I felt like there was nothing upstairs. I could not form words ..." she recalled. Radiation followed two weeks later for 33 days.
Paulette, in remission for four and a half years, says she is grateful that cancer gave her "strength to see that I could fight and overcome something that sounded so scary."