A year ago, this month, Kashala Forbes had a double mastectomy, and while she admits she misses her “little boobies”, which were a part of her for most of her life, she says removing them meant doing everything she could to save her life.
“I have my children to live for,” says Forbes, 31, as she observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease.
And besides, the mother of three – a 10-year-old, seven-year-old and a one-year-old – says breasts do not define her. Without them, Forbes says she is still the same upbeat, personable person she was before cancer was attached to her name and before she underwent a double mastectomy on October 17, 2019.
“With God’s help, and seeing my children every day, and knowing that they depend on me will always be a motivation for me, even after I become a breast cancer survivor.”
One year out of her double mastectomy, Forbes is battling cancer once again, as the cells have now aggressively reappeared in her left chest cavity.
She is fighting stage three cancer cells found in August. The cancer was found after she went to the hospital suffering chest pains and breathing problems.
At diagnosis, she was started on chemotherapy immediately. She is on her second cycle. She takes treatment for three consecutive weeks, before she’s given a one-week break.
The cancer-fighting drugs are being delivered to her via intravenous (IV) drips in her hands because she does not have a port-a-cath.
It’s a process that she says is painful and have left her with hands that she says she can barely use because they’re so swollen.
In her battle to fight off cancer, once again, she says the medication also leaves her drowsy, weak, and nauseous – but she says she still has to care for her children.
Forbes was seven months pregnant with her last child when her fiancée felt a lump under her left arm. Knowing she has a family history of breast cancer – three paternal aunts and her grandmother were all diagnosed with breast cancer – and she had already battled the disease before, she says she immediately sought medical attention, to be told it was probably her breast milk developing. She said the medical professionals decided to wait until she gave birth to her baby before they did anything.
After she gave birth, she said they told her the lump was the milk in her breast. She was not appeased and sought an independent scan in April 2019, which she said showed the lump was developing. She was given an appointment for August.
In the interim, she said she noticed a cyst growing on the outside of her left breast and was told it looked like stage one breast cancer and that the breast would have to be removed. She was given an October appointment for the surgery. On the morning of the surgery, she said the doctors did another scan and found the cancer had spread to her right breast as well and asked if she wanted both removed. She said yes.
“I decided to remove both breasts because I knew I didn’t want to go through that again. I have my children to live for,” she said. “Besides, I know what it is to have my breasts. At that point, my mind was on surviving for my children, so removing both [breasts] wasn’t a problem for me.”
She says she did not do radiation or chemotherapy after her double mastectomy because the doctors said they had gotten all of the cancer cells.
Twelve days out from the one-year anniversary of her double mastectomy she said she was surprised the cancer has returned and that it is at an aggressive stage three.
She went to the hospital because she was having chest pains and problems breathing.
Once it was determined she had cancer again, she started chemotherapy right away.
She was also apprehensive about having to go into a medical facility in the era of COVID-19.
“I was so scared,” said Forbes. “When I walked [into the medical facility], I walked in there with faith. I said I needed to see how best I could be helped. I prayed the night before, the day of, and went in with faith hoping everything would be okay, and ever since, everything has been okay.”
She says she refuses to allow cancer to be the death of her and will do everything she possibly can to ensure her life.
Prior to her breast cancer battles, Forbes had cryosurgery for cervical cancer in 2016, after which she says she took one round of chemotherapy to ensure all cells were killed.
As far as Forbes is concerned, her future looks bright and she will do everything she can to ensure that it does, even though she does not have medical insurance. And that includes eating as healthy as possible.
Forbes, who sells food, is currently unable to work. Because she takes chemotherapy through her hands, she says trying to work would add to the strain on her hands.
With the awareness of breast cancer pushed to the forefront of people’s minds during this month, while she is in her fight, Forbes says this month means even more to her now than it did when she thought about it in terms of her family members.
She says she now knows what it is and how it feels to be a part of a sisterhood that she did not intentionally set out be a part of.
Forbes has also reached out to members of Sister Sister (Breast) Cancer Support Group for advice on how to get through and to connect with people who have been through what she is going through to help put her mind at ease.
“I’m a very happy, outgoing person – but when I deal with my children and put them to bed at night, my mind starts to wander and I think about it,” she said.
She made contact with stage four breast cancer survivor Shantell Hutchinson, who she said reminded her that she’s not alone.
Forbes said as she battles cancer, it has been cemented for her that the person entrenched in the fight has to have willpower to survive.
“At one point in time when my breast got removed, I told my mom I see why a lot of people die from cancer, because they’re not dying from the cancer itself … the pain you go through, would cause you to ask God to take you.”
Because of her children, she says giving up isn’t an option for her.
With a compromised immune system and in an effort to remain safe during a pandemic, Forbes says she stays indoors when she does not have to go out. After she saw the confirmed COVID-19 cases rising, she opted to have her groceries delivered. When she does have to venture outdoors, she says she wears all her personal protective equipment.