Breast cancer survivor shares story of early detection

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month came to an end, Sherrondolyn Houston is celebrating 13 years of being cancer-free thanks to early detection.

Houston, a mother of four, works for a carpet manufacturer in LaGrange. She has been married for 25 years. Recently, she fulfilled a life goal of returning to college to complete her bachelor’s degree in business administration.

However, 13 years ago, Houston was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ.

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“I did not have any symptoms of breast cancer. I went for my women’s wellness checkup at 35 and my doctor — who’s always very thorough — she said, go in and get a base mammogram,” Houston said. 

The mammogram showed some calcifications in her left breast. She was told to come back in six months. More calcifications were present but again they said it was too soon for a biopsy. 

“Well, that kind of frustrated me,” Houston said.

Finally, when she noticed abnormal leakage at home, Houston returned to the doctor where a biopsy revealed that she had cancer present. 

When she received conflicting recommendations from her radiologist and surgeon, Houston decided to seek a second opinion. She and her husband of 25 years drove to Atlanta to seek a breast care specialist. 

The doctor told her she needed a mastectomy and a TRAM Flap Surgery, which is a type of breast reconstruction using skin and muscle from the stomach.

“After three weeks of being home … the doctor called me with the pathology reports and said ‘I’m glad we went the way we went because we didn’t get a clear margin,” Houston said.

Her doctor told her that they did not find enough healthy cells to declare her cancer-free. She began six weeks of radiation treatments. 

However, that wasn’t the end of Houston’s journey. After radiation, her right breast had shrunk, and she had to receive a second surgery to even out her breasts. Houston said the recovery was the most painful part. 

“I’m so glad it’s over. Thank God,” Houston said. “But I just give all the credit to my strength and my faith in God.”

She had to sleep on her couch for weeks while her body healed. Her husband and their children, her youngest only six years old, worried over their mother’s painful recovery. 

“I’m normally the one running around getting everything done, which most moms are,” Houston said. “But daddy had to take over, and it just wasn’t the same.” 

Ultimately, Houston said she owed her strength to her faith in God. After three weeks of painful recovery, she was reminded of her faith and her family. 

During her journey, Houston decided not to share many details outside of her family. However, only one year later, she learned that her sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Then, Houston was grateful that she was able to use her own experiences to help her sister avoid certain discomforts. 

“We knew what to expect, so it was real good to be able to kind of help and guide her,” Houston said. “And I don’t think she was as fearful.”

Later, Houston reflected that she often felt frustrated that the danger might have been detected a year earlier when the calcifications were first found. 

After 13 years of being a cancer survivor, Houston said she is grateful that she listened to her body and learned to be an advocate for herself. She said it’s important to take advantage of wellness checkups which are usually covered under health insurance. 

“I’m very, very thankful for early detection and very thankful for my doctor pushing me to go,” Houston said.