A mother and daughter share their personal journey with breast cancer to help inspire others facing a life-altering diagnosis.
A mother’s love is incomparable. The bond she shares with her children is not only unique but also often drives her to be the best version of herself.
Felicia Robinson understands this well and relied on that relationship when she faced the most shocking news of her life — a breast cancer diagnosis.
Because Robinson’s husband of 30 years worked overnights and her son was pursuing his music career, her daughter, DeAirah, became her caregiver. The mother/daughter duo share their individual perspectives about the cancer journey in a new book, “Surviving Pink.”
In an interview with CURE®, Robinson details her mastectomy, undergoing chemotherapy and losing her hair and reminds others to never give up.
CURE®: In November 2017, you received a ductal carcinoma in situ breast cancer diagnosis. What ran through your mind?
Robinson: My immediate reaction was shock, and then my shock went to surviving, positive thinking and needing to gear up to fight. I couldn’t be defeated. I made sure that I kept a positive attitude throughout the diagnosis, and I figured that (it) would spread to my family and friends.
You ended up going for a second opinion. What prompted you to do so?
The second opinion was a family decision. I saw a doctor in Atlanta, and she recommended that I remove both breasts. But the diagnosis was showing that the cancer cells were only in the right breast, so I couldn’t understand why I had to remove both. And it was more of a personal, vanity thing with me because if I could keep one breast, I could kind of feel that I was part-whole. When I mentioned it to my family, they immediately said, “Let’s get a second opinion.”
They suggested going to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. (I underwent) their entire battery of tests and the doctor recommended that I only have a unilateral mastectomy.
He said, “You know, breast cancer doesn’t jump from breast to breast, so if it’s in this one breast, let’s deal with the one breast.”
In “Surviving Pink,” you describe feeling, after undergoing mastectomy, that you had made a terrible mistake. How so?
Once you have this surgery, you’re bandaged up and you don’t really see anything. You’re trying to digest that your breast is gone. ... I took a picture before surgery so I could see what I looked like before. It didn’t really hit me until I had to remove the bandages to actually see that I had one breast removed. ... You’ve done all your research online, but to actually see it — it takes you aback. But it also made me realize that I’m still alive. I may have one breast, but I’m still here.
My faith is what made me say, “Look, you’re alive. You are given another chance to live.” This is what life has given me, and I’m going to use this to the best of my advantage and move forward. So I didn’t stay in that state very long.
Following mastectomy, it was found that cancer cells had spread to some lymph nodes, which called for chemotherapy. Did you experience any side effects?
The first chemo you’re feeling good; then, going into your second or third round of chemo, you start to lose your hair, and it’s shocking at first because it’s coming out. You put your hand through it and you have a lump of hair in your hand.
The other side effects were more nausea and fatigue. They give you medication for that, but it still hits you like a brick. You’re miserable. You lose your taste. Everything you eat tastes like metal. It gets bad, but it’s doable.
You can survive it. But there were some really low points, and that’s where my daughter stepped into the caregiver role. ... My husband worked nights, and she was the one that was here, so she got to experience all those things with me. She and I would Google what we could to figure out what works. We bought ginger and different teas. We just researched and tried to find what could help alleviate the symptoms.
Can you dive more into your relationship with your daughter?
My daughter and I have always had a close relationship. We started a party-planning business about five years prior to the cancer diagnosis, so she and I worked together.
She was the first person that I went to when I discovered the lump. Her initial reaction was “Oh, maybe your bra is too tight or something under your arm, you know ... it’s nothing.” So, we went on with the day and worked a 50th birthday party that night. But within the next couple of days, every morning I woke up and I would feel if it was still there, and it was, so I needed to process it and then make the decision to share it with the rest of my family members.
And how did writing a book come to life?
The following February, I turned 50, and at my birthday party I made the announcement. It came out of nowhere. Everybody was there, and they were excited. When we got home later that evening, my daughter asked me, “Oh, so we’re writing a book?”
We would put topics in a bowl, and at night or on weekends or whenever we had free time, we would just pull a topic and start writing about it, because I wanted her to write about how she felt and I write what I felt without us talking about it before.
When we finished everything, we went to Starbucks and swapped notes. It was a very eye-opening experience for me because I didn’t realize how she really felt and what she was really going through and vice versa.
What can readers expect from “Surviving Pink”?
If you told me that by the age of 50 that I would have a breast cancer diagnosis, four rounds of chemo and a 22-year-old daughter stepping up as my caregiver, I would not have believed you.
But I was not sad, because I was thankful that I was surviving. “Surviving Pink” offers information, inspiration and encouragement for anyone going through a life-altering diagnosis.
My diagnosis was breast cancer, but for so many, it could be cancer, diabetes, heart conditions. It could be anything that kind of knocks you off the journey you had planned.
Do you have a life motto?
Never, never, never give up. There is hope even when your brain tells you there isn’t. You have to believe that there is hope. And you must keep going.