Ever since her younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, Barbara Thomas did regular self-exams and had annual mammograms.
Two years later, on her 45th birthday, Thomas discovered a lump in her left breast during a routine self-exam.
“My baby sister saved me,” she said. “By her having it, it made me really start doing the self-breast exams.”
Thomas chose to have a lumpectomy and underwent chemotherapy and 32 days of radiation.
In 1995, her sister, Darlene Abraham, died of the disease.
In September 2011, a biopsy confirmed cancer, and this time Thomas had to have a mastectomy.
She said she was dumbfounded, but resolved to keep a positive attitude.
“I said, ‘Go on and do what you’ve got to do so I can keep living,’” she said. “I made it through the left breast, and I’ll make it through the right breast.”
Because another sister also had breast cancer (she survived), Thomas underwent testing for the BRCA1 gene and tested positive.
“I have a great chance of having breast cancer return,” she said.
She will have to decide whether to have another mastectomy, even though she is cancer-free.
“Until I made a decision I’m having mammograms every six months,” she said. “I’m going to take it a step at a time.”
In the meantime, she doesn’t mind sharing her story with others.
“If somebody else has it and sees that I’m surviving, maybe they’ll look at me and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” she said.