Breast Cancer Survivor to Women: Advocate For Your Health

Written By:Stacy Simon

After her mother died of breast cancer, Gina Favors – just 17 at the time – did everything she could to avoid getting it herself. She ate a healthy diet, got plenty of physical activity, got regular mammograms, and paid attention to the way her breasts looked and felt.

As she got older, Favors noticed a new fullness in her left breast, but she chalked that up to maturity. She’d never heard that swelling or enlargement could be a symptom of breast cancer. And she also felt safe because year after year, her mammogram results came back normal. But in November 2010 at age 50, Favors noticed the nipple on that breast was slightly inverted. She went to the doctor to get checked out.

A mammogram and ultrasound looked normal, and the radiologist told Favors to come back next year for her regular mammogram. But Favors wasn’t satisfied. “I felt like I was in a twilight zone,” said Favors. “While I was putting my clothes back on, I could hear a voice telling me to keep going, keep asking.” She asked a nurse if there was anyone else she could talk to, and the nurse gave her a breast surgeon’s business card. Favors made an appointment.

The surgeon examined Favors, asked about her family history, and looked at her mammogram results. He told her she had dense breast tissue. This is very common, and means the breasts have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue. It can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, and it can make it harder for breast cancer to show up on mammograms. He found a suspicious spot under her arm and ordered a biopsy. He called Favors a few days later with the results: She had stage III breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and was very aggressive. She was going to need an aggressive treatment plan.

‘I cried a lot.’

“I cried a lot the first two nights,” said Favors. “After that, I thought all I could do was trust God and pay attention to what the doctors were saying.” Her son and daughter came to all her appointments, learned all they could about her type of cancer, and asked the doctors lots and lots of questions. “I know that made a difference with the doctors,” said Favors.

Favors’ treatment included chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. She had options for what type of surgery to get and she decided to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction. “This was a personal choice,” said Favors. “If cancer was what my breasts could produce, I didn’t want either one.”

Getting through treatment was a challenge for Favors, but she says she was determined to not just survive, but thrive. She had nausea, mouth sores, painful swelling in her feet (neuropathy), loss of her fingernails, and hair loss. However, she continued working as a legal administrator at a law firm. “It was a true challenging victory that I made it through,” she says now.

Walking through pain, walking in confidence

Favors continues to have scans and other tests at follow-up visits every year, and lab work done every 6 months. Her test results from her most recent exam were all good, and she says she feels vibrant and strong, although she still has pain in her legs and feet. “I just walk through the pain,” she says.

Hair loss from chemotherapy is usually temporary, but Favors’ hair never grew back, and after a couple of years of wearing wigs, she decided to go bald. “I have the best self-esteem,” said Favors. “I know now my worth is not in my outer appearance – my breasts and my hair. I’m not what my breasts and hair define me as. I’m so much more than that. I truly know God saved my life. I was listening to his voice. He told me, ‘Keep going. Don’t stop. Listen closely. Don’t be afraid. I’m here.’ I walk in true confidence. I really feel good about choices I made. I’m secure, confident, sexy, joyful, and happy.”

Advocating for women’s health

"I try to make women more aware that we have to take our own health in our hands, get our mammograms, and to stay on top of any type of change in our breasts."

Gina Favors

After her recovery, Favors wrote to the clinic where she got her mammograms and pointed out a gap in the way they take patients’ history. They listened. Because of Favors, the check-in forms at the clinic now ask women if they’ve ever seen a change in either breast.

Favors has spoken at churches about her breast cancer experience and raised money for breast cancer research. She’s been made a leader at the cancer ministry at her church, and she plans to attend an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event in her local area of Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

“I pray, share information, and try to be a total loving support,” said Favors. “Whenever I speak, I try to make women more aware that we have to take our own health in our hands, get our mammograms, and to stay on top of any type of change in our breasts.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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