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Angela Bennett-Lewis: 'Who is going to take care of my baby?'

It's all in the mind. Although the lump in her breast was real, it was all the accompanying thoughts that affected Angela Bennett-Lewis the most.

But that was six years ago.

"It used to be at the forefront of my mind all the time," Mrs. Lewis said. "But it hit me the other day that it's no longer on my mind."

When she was 30, Mrs. Lewis said she hesitantly went to see the doctor because she was experiencing some hormonal problems with one of her breasts. As a result of her complaints, Mrs. Lewis said a mammogram was scheduled, even though she was 10 years younger than the recommended screening age. And the mammogram showed a lump in her other breast.

"The doctor said it was so small that it would have taken years to discover by self-exams," she said. "So, I give all the credit to God for finding it."

Surgery confirmed that the lump was stage one cancer.

"When you first hear it, you automatically think cancer means death," she said. "The first thing I thought of was 'Who is going to take care of my baby?'"

Her son, Alex, was 3-years-old at the time. She said her husband, Tester, was the strong one who assured her that they would fight the cancer. Even though the lump was small and removed, Mrs. Lewis had to go through four chemo, 32 radiation and five years of Tomoxin treatments. She was given the aggressive treatment because cancer in younger women is usually more aggressive. And listening to her treatment plan brought a new wave of thoughts.

"The scariest time is the beginning," she said. "You think 'Am I making the right choice?' and you second guess yourself about everything. But you can't do that. You have to trust your doctors."

During the treatment time, Mrs. Lewis said "it's just survival," and she only concentrated on getting through each day. She decided to continue working her job as a speech pathologist at Norris Elementary School, so that she could keep things "as normal as possible." But things were not normal, so she and her husband began to weigh the meaning of life.

"We said there's got to be much more to life than this," she said. "When you're in your 30s, you think you can do everything for yourself. ... We thought we were invincible, but the cancer was a wake-up call."

So the couple and their son started attending church at New Hope Baptist, where they became saved, baptized and Mr. Lewis is now a deacon.

"Now, I've been humbled and I consider (the cancer) a major blessing," Mrs. Lewis said. "I appreciate every single day. I appreciate seeing my child every day. I try not to waste my time. And I don't take anything for granted."

During that time, Mrs. Lewis said attending support groups, both in person and online, and hearing the stories of other survivors was a big help. These days, she likes to share her own story whenever she can, as well as some advice.

"If there's the slightest chance, even an inkling of an idea, that something is wrong, then have it checked out by a doctor. Listen to what your body is telling you. Listen to your conscience, it tells you that something is not right."

And these days, her thoughts couldn't be better. In fact, she's changed her mind totally in the last five years.

"Before, I wanted to keep things like they were before the cancer. But, life never did get back to the way it was before. It's much better," Mrs. Lewis said as she hugged Alex, now 10.

Web posted on Thursday, October 02, 2008

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