“It was the summer of 1980 in Bolton, Massachusetts. While other teens were playing outside my door, I was taking care of my mom: helping her, doing things around the house and running errands.”
Carmen Rosa-Brooks was 15 years old when her mother had breast cancer. “One day, while mom was talking with a friend, she happened to hold onto a door frame. All of a sudden she felt a sort of electrical pulse going down her arm to her breast, which wouldn’t go away,” she recalled. The next day, Carmen’s mother, Iris Rosa, felt no pain but began to feel tenderness in her breast. Eventually the sensation came back. She decided to get it taken care of right away.
Mammogram results determined that she had cancer, not only in her breast but also in her lymph nodes. The disease had already run up the gland chain. Within two weeks of diagnosis, Iris had a surgery. Doctors in Saint Croix performed a radical mastectomy, extensive to the back of her shoulder blade, and according to Carmen, that well-timed procedure saved her life.
“My mom has four sisters. Two died of breast cancer and one died of heart disease. My only living aunt now at old age, is having lumps and breast issues,” said Carmen.
“My mother is a wonderful mentor and an amazing woman of strength,” said Carmen while describing the spells of her mom, practically passing out after enduring radiation on her weakened body.
At that time, breast reconstruction was not commonly offered. So Iris would wear prosthesis in her bra. “She struggled fitting into beautiful dresses and she couldn’t because one breast would look bigger or smaller; prosthesis were never sized perfectly... She had long beautiful hair down to her waist and when she combed herself, hair would fall out in chunks.” Carmen does not forget her mother’s silent tears and the agony of that moment in her life, when she never thought that one day, that could be her.
hardest decision to make. She sat with a panel of doctors at Mayo and the best medical recommendation she received was to have her breast removed leaving no opportunity for the disease to beat her. “Had I never requested that mammogram at 35, who knows what that lump could have turned into,” Carmen pondered.
Doing an elective mastectomy
Carmen knew it was not about her breasts but about her life, and with the support of her husband it would be an easy decision to make.
The surgery was in September last year. It took 9 hours and seven days in intensive care to monitor her breast reconstruction. Once at home, she spent two months in recovery. “My mother came from the Virgin Islands to take care of me for three months. I couldn’t have had a better nurse.”
Sixty nine-year-old Iris Rosa was very supportive of her daughter. She knew exactly what Carmen was going through. “The elective mastectomy was the best decision I have every made,” Carmen said.
Evading breast cancer had a holistic approach for Carmen; she was able to heal emotionally, physically and mentally once the breast threats ceased.
Today Carmen does not consider herself a survivor because of the fact that the disease was not yet in her at the time of the surgery and she didn’t have to go through chemo or radiation. “I simply consider myself as one more warrior, able to beat the disease before it beat me.” ))