No woman, least of all a 22-year-old, wants to have to decide to remove her breasts, but four years ago, that was exactly what Zitalia Fox had to do after she was diagnosed with stage three aggressive breast cancer. Four years after a bilateral mastectomy, Fox says it’s the best decision she’s ever made and she’s living her best life – sans breasts. And she has no plans for reconstruction.
“It was hard at first. I didn’t want to,” said Fox. “I was saying, ‘I so young. Why now?’ Now, I feel awesome! That was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Initially, she only wanted to remove one breast, but after hearing stories and doing research she decided to remove both breasts.
In the days following her surgery, she considered reconstruction, but now she says she doesn’t want to.
“I’m fine the way I am,” says Fox, now 26.
She initially discovered a lump in her left breast in November 2014, which she says she didn’t pay attention to at first, but as time progressed, the lump grew and became painful which made her concerned. She went to a doctor.
“At first, they refused to perform a mammogram on me because I was so young, but I was determined to get it done. I had to pull one of the nurses in a room so she could see and feel this lump. She was shocked.”
Within a week of that appointment, Fox had results from an ultrasound and mammogram which showed that she had a fibroadenoma lump (non-cancerous) and that it had to be removed. The only available appointment was in February 2015.
“Cool! I had no worries, it’s not cancer; I could relax.”
But that wasn’t the case. In December 2014, Fox had to go to the emergency room because the spot where the lump was had developed into an abscess which, she said, was painful.
“The doctors cut it and let the fluid out and gave me medication and said to come back in two weeks. That was the worst pain ever,” she recalled.
Fox then had to wait another two weeks for results.
January 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was suggested she remove both breasts.
“I felt like the world was coming to an end. I was devastated and torn. All I kept saying, ‘Why me Lord, why? I’m so young. I haven’t finished college or had kids yet.’”
Her treatment entailed six rounds of chemotherapy for six hours every 30 days which she said was the worst ever and that she barely ate and was unable to keep fluids down.
In July 2015, she had a bilateral mastectomy.
In April 2016, Fox did six weeks of radiation. That year, she also graduated college.
“I’ve been living life wonderfully since I was diagnosed and I can truly say I’m blessed and thankful to God for keeping me and carrying me through the storm,” she said.
Fox’s battle with cancer wasn’t the first for her. As a teenager in high school, she had to witness her mom, Jennimae Johnson and her aunt, Jan Johnson, battle cancer.
“When one was doing treatment, I was with the other one and vice versa. I was at a really young age when they both went through it.”
Today, they are both 13-year survivors. The trio has also been tested for the BRCA gene. Fox said she still hasn’t received her result.
Her mom and aunt and other family members, she said, were with her every step of her recent battle.
“Once you have a good support system, anything is possible through God,” she said. But she also encourages anyone going through the battle to remain positive.
Fox is one of 14 cancer survivors and fighters who will be honored during Gillian Curry-Williams’ fashion for a cause event under her Remilda Rose Designs brand. The one male and 13 females have all battled or are still battling various forms of cancer.
After nominating her mother, Fox was also selected to be honored, which she said surprised her.
“I feel honored,” she said of her selection.
By participating in the event, honorees get to share their individual stories and what they went through, which allows others to see that cancer is survivable.
Curry-Williams’ upcoming show, in which Fox and her mom will be featured, is personal. The designer’s late father, Donald Curry, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She took note of what he went through and how her mother, Letitia Curry – his main caregiver – dealt with him. Curry-Williams also took notice of how her father was at treatment sessions, which she would attend with him, which gave her the opportunity to take in how other people received treatment. What she witnessed made her wonder what she could do to assist as a designer.
She, at first, came up with a fabric she dubbed the “Fabric of Hope” – a print made up of some of the colors associated with various types of cancer. That was followed with the idea of staging a fashion show to honor individuals who were going through treatment or had battled cancer, during which Curry-Williams would debut designs in the “Hope Fabric”, but at the same time, dress the cancer survivors/fighters in her original designs, giving them a turn in the spotlight on the runway.
“Dress them up and make them feel good … make them feel special,” said Curry-Williams. “And yes, you may not have any ovaries, you may not have a breast … you may not have breasts, because you may have taken both off, you may have had cancer in the lungs or the rectum, but the fact is you are still handsome, you’re still beautiful, you’re still worthy.”
In Curry-Williams’ fourth show to honor cancer survivors and fighters scheduled for November 10 at the Atlantis, the designer said she knows her father would be proud of what she’s doing, and the fact that she has continued with the event even though he’s passed. Prior to his death, she said he had expressed his pride in her thinking of the idea of the fashion show for a cause, and she was able to host her first show before he died, even though he was too sick to attend.
Andrea Sweeting, Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group president serves as patron for this year’s show. Tickets are $70 general admission, $120 VIP.