Author credits breast self-exam with early cancer detection

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Brenda Montgomery

She was unwilling to put her health on hold because of fear

Brenda Montgomery had achieved two major milestones – retirement and having her first book published. Things were all coming together for the Detroit resident. Then, during a breast self-exam, she noticed some abnormalities in her left breast.

Breast self-exam

“This particular night I thought would be the same as all the rest. I noticed a difference [in her breast], but kept telling myself it was nothing,” Montgomery, 73, wrote in her journal.

Initially, she shrugged it off. But after the disbelief passed, Montgomery realized she should talk with her family physician, Dr. Liza Weathersby. She did not want to wait for her scheduled annual mammogram.

“ … it was not my imagination, seeking medical advice was important,” wrote Montgomery. “We cannot put our health on hold because of fear.”

Cancer diagnosis

Dr. Weathersby examined Montgomery. Then, she referred her to the Beaumont Cancer and Breast Care Center in Farmington Hills for a mammogram. The results led to more tests: an ultrasound, MRI and needle biopsies. The diagnosis – early stage breast cancer.

Montgomery admits the news was shocking. She noted in her journal, “Of course this was a big surprise and left me speechless for a moment. After yearly mammograms returning negative and many self-examinations that gave no signs of problems, this was a startling find.”

Treatment

The medical team at the Beaumont Cancer and Breast Care Center, Farmington Hills helped Montgomery understand her treatment options. This included a breast surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist and nurse navigator.

In July, she had a mastectomy and, in September, she received 16 radiation treatments.

Vision board

A woman of faith, Montgomery completed a 2019 vision board with other church members months before her diagnosis. Her board uses pictures, drawings and words to depict her strong religious faith, new book, love of family and hobbies.

After her diagnosis, she recalled a conversation, “Lord, I don’t see cancer on my vision board.” And then, she said the Lord replied, “This is one of the unforeseens.”

Family

Montgomery and her family had seen and coped with many unexpected events living on a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She was raised by grandparents who were sharecroppers. Montgomery’s recently published autobiography, “Mud, Sweat and Tears,” chronicles her early years.

In her book she writes, “We didn’t have the best in material things, but the love we shared wouldn’t be taken away.”

Her grandparents taught Montgomery about family, faith, compassion, respect and hard work. She said, “They struggled, but they were overcomers.”

Journey

“My cancer, it’s been a journey, but not one of sadness,” Montgomery said, “You can’t stay focused on the downs and negatives.”

When she completed her radiation treatments, Montgomery experienced mixed emotions: happy her treatments were done, but sad she was no longer going to be meeting with her friends – caregivers and patients.

Motivating others

Moving forward, she said, “I want to motivate others facing cancer. I’m open to sharing my story, experiences. My message – stress the importance of early cancer detection.”

Instead of picking up where she left off with her autobiography, she intends to turn her recent journal into a book about her cancer journey.

Brenda writing

Montgomery’s husband, Ray, said, “Despite her cancer diagnosis and treatments, she never slowed down. She has another story to tell.”

Mind, body and spirit

“Brenda’s experience underscores the importance of periodic breast self-exams,” said Dr. Weathersby. “It also helped that she has such a positive, upbeat attitude and strong support network. She's a wonderful woman and patient.”

Explained Penny Widmaier, MSN, oncology nurse navigator, Beaumont Cancer and Breast Care Center, Farmington Hills, “Brenda was a delight. She was positive, with a great outlook. Her husband provided constant support. She was diligent about making it to all her appointments and was grateful for the care received from her medical team. Brenda confronted her breast cancer with mind, body and spirit.”

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