Celebrating six years cancer free

Published 2:34 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Michelle Smith Wilkerson was born and raised in Lowndes County. She has been teaching in Lowndes County Public School System for what she describes as 28 wonderful years.
She retired from public school teaching in May of this year and moved to her alma mater, Lowndes Academy as a third-grade teacher.
Wilkerson discovered she had breast cancer during a routine yearly mammogram in March of 2015.
“My initial reaction was a sense of shock, disbelief and fear, almost as if it wasn’t really true,” Wilkerson said. “Afterwards, I researched my type of cancer, acquired a wonderful team, including my surgeon, oncologist, and radiologist at the Montgomery Cancer Center, all thankfully within 30 miles of my home. I felt more at ease with my diagnosis.”
Wilkerson’s diagnosis was stage two HER2 positive ductal carcinoma in her right breast.
She was given the option of having a mastectomy on her right breast or a double mastectomy.
“After much discussion with my husband and family, I made the decision to have a mastectomy only on the affected right breast in the hopes that cancer would not progress to the left side,” Wilkerson said. “Breaking the news to my girls and family was really hard. Their reaction was just like my initial reaction upon learning the diagnosis, fear, anger, sorrow and disbelief.”
Dr. Pamela Strickland removed Wilkerson’s right breast. Dr. Bentley performed her reconstruction surgery.
During the mastectomy, Strickland found that cancer had progressed from stage two to stage three.
“My family, co-workers, and my community were such a wonderful part of my journey and I could not have made that journey without every person that helped me,” Wilkerson said.
Following surgery, Wilkerson went through four months of chemotherapy treatments followed by radiation treatments for two months.
Wilkerson said chemotherapy brought on new challenges to her body.
“I had a loss of hair, tiredness, weakness, nausea, neuropathy in my hands and feet, and a weakened immune system. Radiation treatments caused skin burns and discoloration to the site being treated,” Wilkerson revealed.
She said she knew the treatments were necessary for her treatment, but the treatments and side effects were very intense.
Wilkerson has now been cancer-free for six months.
“I continue to faithfully have regular mammograms on my left breast and check-ups with my oncologist monthly.”
Wilkerson attends monthly group meetings with Women of Hope. They offer guest speakers on various topics related to breast cancer and the latest treatment options.
“Breast cancer blew into my life like a hurricane, unexpected and devastating. But, through my faith in God and the loving support of my family and friends. I am enjoying life each day to the fullest and helping others that have been diagnosed,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said several of her friends and a few relatives have been diagnosed with breast cancer through routine mammogram screenings since her diagnosis.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Routine mammograms are a key factor in catching breast cancer early and saving lives.