A story of hope and survival: Helen Banquer

Published 12:05 am Saturday, October 5, 2019

Story written by Ronny Michel.  Each Saturday in the month of October, L’OBSERVATEUR will print a Breast Cancer Awareness story of hope and survival.

In July 2018, Helen Banquer was preparing for a trip out of the country when she had her annual diagnostic 3D mammogram. The test revealed something that was explained as “probably a shadow.” Following her trip, she had an additional mammogram, ultrasound, and later, a biopsy.

Banquer had another trip scheduled, this time to Tennessee, and told her sister that she would wait on the results of the biopsy to determine if she’d make the trip. When the doctor called her with the news that she had Stage 1, Grade 3 breast cancer, Banquer called her sister and simply said, “I’m not going to Tennessee.”

Surgery to remove the lump was followed with three chemotherapy treatments. Banquer lost her hair after the first course of chemotherapy and was grateful that she had bought a wig before that happened.

Chemotherapy also decreased her white blood cell counts. A lowered immune system caused other health complications which required hospital stays. Banquer then had 30 days of radiation which produced no side effects.

“At the beginning, I kept it private,” Banquer said. “I only told immediate family, very close friends, and a small prayer group.”

Her younger grandchildren had no idea of the battle their grandmother was fighting, and they learned of the news one day while going to lunch. Banquer said that it was a hot day and the wig she was wearing made her head even hotter. She turned to her grandchildren and said, “I’m wearing a wig because I lost my hair. I’m about to take the wig off.”

“Did you have cancer?” her granddaughter asked.

Banquer said that they took the news better than she had and from that point on, they were a great source of encouragement.

“It’s not the end of the world if you have breast cancer,” Banquer said. “It’s a warning to do something. It’s very treatable.”

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and women will be advised to schedule their mammograms. That’s a reminder Banquer doesn’t need. She has had annual mammograms for years and is grateful for the technology that detected the lump early. Banquer said, “Had I skipped a year, it would have been much worse.”

Common Breast Cancer Myth #1: Women with a family history of breast cancer are likely to develop breast cancer, too. This myth is dangerous because, if taken at face value, it can give women with no family history of breast cancer a false sense of security. However, the NBCF notes that only about 10 percent of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that a woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a first-degree relative, including a mother, sister, daughter, or even a male family member, who have had the disease. However, breast cancer can affect anyone, regardless of family.