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Breast Cancer Awareness: JoAnn Morris Alexander’s story

Although it’s been 27 years, JoAnn Morris Alexander remembers the day she discovered a dimpled knot on her breast.

“It was purple and red and looked like a bruise,” she said. “When I told my co-workers about it, they insisted I call my doctor.”

The doctor saw her that day, ordered an ultrasound, and later called with instructions for her to return the following day and to bring someone.

“Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind,” she said. “I was 42 years old, my daughter was starting high school, and there was no family history of cancer. I didn’t tell anyone about the appointment.”

When she returned to the doctor, he told her that he felt sure it was cancer and insisted someone accompany her to the biopsy of the walnut-sized mass.

“Do I have to tell my mom?” Alexander asked her doctor. Advised to do so, she held a family meeting with her mother and other family members that evening. Upon hearing the news, her mother fell to her knees in tears.

Following a ten-hour surgery which included reconstruction, Alexander faced six rounds of chemotherapy. After learning of the side effects others had endured, she decided to not receive the chemotherapy, but her family insisted she complete treatment.

Alexander not only dealt with hair loss and nausea following the initial infusion of chemotherapy, but her vein collapsed. Her mother and son were with her when she had a port implanted for the remainder of her treatment.

“I couldn’t breathe after the port was placed in me,” Alexander said. “The doctor said it was anxiety and told me to lay down and rest for a while. He told my son to go home for a few hours and told my mom to go to the cafeteria, then to watch me.”

Alexander’s son only left because she insisted, but her mother refused to leave. Instead, her mother moved a chair close to the side of the bed and stared at Alexander.

“The doctor told me to watch you and I’m going to watch you,” her mother said.

“It’s time for you to watch The Young and The Restless,” Alexander said as as she reached for the remote. All her mother saw was Alexander lose consciousness. A nurse who was in a bathroom down the hall heard Alexander’s mother scream and rushed to the room.

“I saw a bright light,” Alexander said. “I was racing through a tunnel toward a person dressed in white with outstretched arms. I couldn’t tell who it was because the face kept getting brighter and brighter. The peace was unimaginable. Then I heard the words, ‘Not now.’ I woke up surrounded by people and machines, and I was in intense pain.”

During the port procedure, a vein had been cut and bleeding caused her lung to collapse. Alexander said she would have died had her mother not been there watching
her.

Although it was difficult, she finished the remaining five rounds of chemotherapy. Today, Alexander conducts a Breast Cancer Program at Providence Baptist Church where she is a member. To raise awareness of the disease, she shares her testimony, wears pink during the entire month of October, and distributes pink ribbons to the congregants at church.

“People need to be aware,” she said, “because cancer hits just about every family.”