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Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Danger of Neglect

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By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Lanie_Prejean.jpgAt age 51, Elaine Prejean finally understands the importance of breast cancer awareness and the dangers of neglect. Since no one in her family had a history of breast cancer, the disease was never a topic of discussion. Therefore, getting a mammogram was not a priority on her health list.

But a breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 was a wake-up call for her on just how important it is to take the necessary precautions when it comes to cancer screenings. And now, she's spreading the message to other women in her community.

Prejean successfully completed radiation and chemotherapy treatment in April 2010, but two months later, an alarming and unusual discharge in her breast sent her to the emergency room. Doctors initially treated her condition as an infection, but after draining a significant amount of discharge, they proceeded with further testing. The results proved worse than just an infection; the cells were malignant, and Prejean's cancer had returned.

Recurrence calls for more change
This time, it will take much more than standard radiation and chemotherapy to fight the cancer. But, prepared for the battle of her lifetime, Prejean faces another change from her mastectomy in October.

She realizes how much of an impact the procedure now has on her life, but she also knows that she has an entire 15,000-member congregation supporting her at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, where Prejean is a member. Through the L.I.F.E. Ministry program, a group for cancer survivors and caregivers, she is able to get information, encouragement and support from fellow congregation members affected by cancer.

"I'm very thankful to be involved in a ministry like this," Prejean says. "It's a great support group. There is another young lady who is a four-time cancer survivor, and I talked with her a lot during my second diagnosis. She prayed with me and shared her personal experience. I feel very blessed to have all those people pulling for me. The power of prayer is strong."

Promoting awareness
In addition to her involvement with L.I.F.E. Ministry, Prejean participates in Project CHURCH (Create a Higher Understanding of Cancer Research and Community Health), a research study conducted by MD Anderson's Department of Health Disparities Research, to help spread the message of cancer awareness.

Prejean joined Project CHURCH shortly after her first cancer diagnosis, and she continues to encourage friends and family members to participate in the study -- a series of questions designed to investigate the factors that contribute to cancer-related health disparities between population groups. She is a big proponent of the research not only because she has battled cancer twice, but also because of her personal experience in neglecting health exams.

"It's a great thing to have, just getting more people aware of their health," Prejean says of the study. "Just because no one in your family has had cancer, it doesn't mean you can ignore it."

The power of pink
Prejean also spreads her message of prevention, awareness and hope through what she wears, not just what she says. Every day, she wears on her clothing a symbol of her fight against cancer -- an angel pin with a pink ribbon and an inscription of the word "Hope." The pin, she says, speaks volumes to those who see it.

"I'm taking a college speech class right now, and my teacher noticed the pin I was wearing and asked me about it," she says. "I told her what it meant to me as a breast cancer survivor, and she said it has gotten her to become more aware of cancer and its effects."

Even Prejean's wardrobe palette is reflecting the ideas in which she so firmly believes.

"I've started to wear a lot of pink, and it's turned into a conversational piece with other people," she says. "They'll often say, 'Oh, pink must be your favorite color,' and I say to them, 'Well, I like to wear pink as a statement for breast cancer awareness.' And that helps me spread the message about it."


Related story:
Q&A :Community Involvement Promotes Cancer Awareness
Project CHURCH is designed to discover, develop and educate the African-American community -- which has the highest cancer death rate of any ethnic group -- on cancer prevention interventions and lifestyle adjustments. Read more about Project CHURCH


MD Anderson resources:
Breast cancer
Nellie B. Connolly Breast Center at MD Anderson
Department of Health Disparities Research


Additional resources:

Project CHURCH (Windsor Village United Methodist Church)


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At age 51, Elaine Prejean finally understands the importance of breast cancer awareness and the dangers of neglect. Since no one in her family had a history of breast cancer, the disease was never a topic of discussion. Therefore, getting a mammogram w... Read More

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