I Had Cancer on My Wedding Day
by Crystal Brown-Tatum
Have you ever thought you were “all that”? Untouchable? Invincible? On top of the world? That’s how I felt on my wedding day. I was a successful single mother and Houston entrepreneur with several major awards under my belt, an Ebony magazine top bachelorette, and had reconnected with my college sweetheart after a 16-year hiatus. Yes, I was finally getting married at the age of 35 after a string of painful relationships.
As I flip through my wedding album, all of the details are a blur. I don’t notice the flowers or the detailed cake. What I cherish is the genuine smile on my face that reflects the love in my heart for so many things – life, my husband, my daughter, my family and friends. Dazzling in my strapless wedding gown, little did I know I had breast cancer. Ironic isn’t it? I look so happy while cancer was dwelling inside me.
I noticed the marble sized lump under my armpit eight months prior to my wedding day but dismissed it as a swollen lymph gland. Life went on while the tumor grew. I found every excuse not to go to the doctor. My grandmother had breast cancer, so I knew there might be a slight likelihood that I would have it. But I convinced myself that Superwoman doesn’t get sick.
Life went on while the tumor grew. I found every excuse not to go to the doctor.
Shortly after my honeymoon, my husband urged me to go to the doctor to determine the cause of the lump, which was beginning to get bigger. Within four days of seeing the doctor, I was diagnosed with Stage III A breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy and axillary lymph node dissection with 16 positive lymph nodes. Due to the positive nodes, chemotherapy would be a treatment option. The thought of chemotherapy was terrifying to me. I had always had a head-full of beautiful, long hair, which is highly prized in the Black community. I couldn’t imagine being bald and taking my new husband through the cosmetic changes.
After much research and consideration, I opted for four cycles of chemotherapy. I feel good about my treatment decision. The hair began to fall out about 20 days after my first treatment. One day while driving, I got a wave of courage and drove to the salon. I decided it was time to empower myself and just shave my head. My hair was falling out daily and was matted and dry. I didn’t shed one tear in the chair. The big picture was life – hair couldn’t rob me of that.
I never heard my 13-year-old daughter say to me that she was proud of me, despite my numerous accomplishments, until I showed her my bald head. She gave me the biggest hug, and I knew that it would be okay. I am forever humbled by this experience and hope to share my story with other young women with cancer someday. Cancer doesn’t care if you are all that and a bag of chips. Cancer doesn’t care at all.
Since the thought of losing my hair was so frightening to me, I went on a Houston, TX, community affairs television program bald to show viewers what the result of chemotherapy looked like and that being bald wasn’t so bad. I even shared home video of my hair falling out to help other women facing this medical challenge. For a former Texas beauty queen, this took a lot of courage.
As I write this, I am halfway through my radiation. When I reflect on the past year, it was definitely a roller coaster of emotions with many dips in the valley. My husband has been wonderful. And the outpouring of support and encouragement from other breast cancer survivors has been critical to my well-being.
Breast cancer is a sisterhood that no one wants to join, but once you are a member, the privileges are invaluable. My name is Crystal, and I am a breast cancer survivor.
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Crystal Brown-Tatum is the president and founder of Crystal Clear Communications (www.crystalcommunicates.com), a public relations firm based in Houston, TX. She is author of the book Saltwater Taffy and Red High Heels: My Journey Through Breast Cancer, available at www.lulu.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2009.