Anita Rolle is grateful daily that she discovered the lump in her breast early, and did not hesitate in seeking treatment. But during October’s global breast cancer awareness month, she says for her, it’s a time of reflection and a heightened awareness of survivors and people who have lost the battle.
“I’m always encouraging people whenever I have the chance, to not take their health for granted, and the importance of annual health checks and screenings like mammograms. I also remind them that practicing a healthy lifestyle is essential,” says Rolle.
The 45-year-old mother of two adult children is a nine-year survivor, and she says she feels good.
Even though she was diagnosed eight years ago, and did not hesitate in seeking treatment, Rolle said it took her many years to finally come to terms with the fact that she had breast cancer. She accepted this fact in 2018 and afterward, made it her mission to do what she could to spread an increased awareness of the disease and the awareness month – October.
She told The Nassau Guardian, her mission is to help those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and support services.
Rolle searched for ways to give back and came up with Sweat Fete, her celebration for a cause in conjunction with Perfect Fit.
Sweat Fete, is a fun-filled family breast cancer awareness event that she has staged for two years. This year, as all events have been canceled due to COVID-19, she says it’s giving her an opportunity to plan for an even bigger and better event next year, if she is able to. The next Sweat Fete will be Rolle’s third.
Sweat Fete is her small way of doing something to help others in need and cancer warriors who are going through the mental and physical battle with cancer.
“It’s just my small way of giving back,” says Rolle.
It was in February 2011 that Rolle, then in her mid-30s, found the lump in her left breast. She recalled it being so minuscule that she thought her mind was playing tricks on her, and she asked her then-teenaged daughter to check to see if she felt anything. Two days later, Rolle found herself at her doctor’s office – she says she had heard too many breast cancer horror stories of lives being lost to the disease and wanted to ensure she was one of the survivors and able to tell a triumphant tale.
Rolle insisted on a mammogram, and it was found to be cancerous. Because of her insistence, her cancer was caught early and the doctors gave her a positive prognosis.
She recalled being afraid but said that wasn’t a big factor, as she made up her mind to do whatever had to be done and wasn’t okay with dragging her feet.
Two weeks after diagnosis, Rolle was in the United States getting a second opinion and having a lumpectomy. She then tackled the disease with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“My focus was to deal with it and get it behind me.”
Rolle said if she had been told she had to remove her breast to save her life, she would have done so. In the final analysis, she did not have to undergo a mastectomy due to the early stage in which the disease was caught.
She was given a 99 percent rate on the cancer not returning, based on pathology reports since her surgery. She said her doctors described the kind of cancer they found as “good cancer” – if there is such a thing.
Today, Rolle is thankful she insisted on a mammogram at her initial doctor’s visit. That insistence she said probably saved her life. She also encourages people to pay attention to their body and changes in it.
During breast cancer awareness month, Rolle says education continues to be key.
“A lot of people lack education about cancer and tend to generalize it. But every breast cancer … every situation, is different. You and another person can have a completely different kind of education. And a lot of other people consider it a death sentence.”
She and her fellow survivors, she said, are proof that breast cancer is not a death sentence.
But Rolle says surviving breast cancer is a lot to take in mentally when going through it.
“You’re focusing on surviving … and with me, I had a serious thing about positive energy, and who I had in my face, so now, it’s about if I can help somebody – if my journey could help them, give them hope … strengthen them.”
During October, Rolle tries to wear the color pink as much as possible, a color that displays moral support for women with breast cancer, and she said it means a lot to her when she sees people donning the color in honor of those that have died, as well as survivors.
“For survivors, pink is a special color. Most survivors don’t just see it as another color. It’s a color that actually speaks to hope – it speaks to life. And it is a good feeling when you see people wearing pink,” said Rolle.
As breast cancer awareness month begins, Rolle said for a survivor, it means the importance of testing and retesting, not taking anything for granted, appreciation for life, the importance of good health and living each day as best as possible, being the most positive and the best person you can be daily.
“It gives you a renewed appreciation for life once you’ve gone through breast cancer and survived. Trivial things no longer matter. You don’t have time to sweat the small stuff.”
Surviving breast cancer she says has made her a more positive individual.
“I’m a more determined person now. Once I put my mind to something, I do it. It’s just generally changed me in that I’m happy with the life that I’m given.”
She believes she had to fight and survive breast cancer to come to the realization that she has to help others and that she needs to step out.
“I feel it’s a part of my purpose in being here and to be there for others and be more vocal about it.”
Rolle has been tested for the BRCA gene and learned that her cancer was not hereditary, which also put her mind at ease for her children – daughter Ashley and son Ashton. She encourages her daughter to do her breast examinations.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in The Bahamas, a country that is home to many islands. This is the first attempt to identify which island has the highest occurrence of breast cancer.
The results of a years-long breast cancer research released in 2011 showed The Bahamas with a high incidence of early-onset breast cancer with six distinct BRCA 1 mutations found in patients from cancer families in the country. The study was of 214 Bahamian women with invasive cancer, unselected for age or family history of cancer. They were screened for six mutations in the BRCA 1 gene that had previously been reported in cancer patients from The Bahamas.
The team – Talia Donenberg and Judith Hurley (Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami); John Lunn (Doctors Hospital); DuVaughn Curling and Theodore Turnquest (Princess Margaret Hospital); Elisa Krill-Jackson (Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Miami); and Robert Royer and Steven A. Narod (Women’s College Research Institute, Toronto, Canada) – found that a mutation was identified in 49 of the breast cancer patients (23 percent). They found that the mutation frequency was particularly high in women diagnosed before age 50 (33 percent), in women with a first-degree relative with breast cancer or ovarian cancer (41 percent) and in women with bilateral breast cancer (58 percent).
The study showed approximately 23 percent of unselected cases of breast cancer in the Bahamian population attributable to a founder mutation in the BRCA1 gene – the highest reported mutation prevalence for any country studied to date. The result of the study was that genetic testing for the mutations was advised for all women diagnosed with breast cancer in The Bahamas.
Age, being female, obesity, and prolonged periods of oral contraceptive usage, all increase risk factors that can’t be changed, and pre-disposes a person to breast cancer.
The gold standard in testing remains the mammogram.
The American Cancer Society recommends women between ages 40 and 44 having the option to start screening with a mammogram every year; women 45 to 54 to screen every year; women 55 and older to screen every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms, and that screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.