For Renae Morris, of South Webster, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time when she celebrates her own survival but also mourns the loss of her grandmother.
In 2000, Morris stood by her grandmother through her battle with breast cancer, a fight that included surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and sickness and was still ultimately a battle lost. Ten years later, when Morris was dusting off her shirt and felt a lump, she immediately knew she had reason to be concerned.
“My grandmother passed away from breast cancer in 2000, so I immediately thought it probably was breast cancer,” Morris said. “I was ready and prepared myself for a full mastectomy, even before I saw a doctor.”
Morris quickly got checked. She explained that doctors first thought it was not cancer; however, she soon found out within a month that it was. Test results showed Morris had two types of cancer and was in stage 2C. She added that staging has changed since, and her cancer would now be a stage three. Within six weeks, Morris said Portsmouth Surgeon Dr. Vincent Scarpinato performed three lumpectomies. Morris also underwent chemotherapy and radiation. She explained that she did not have a mastectomy at the time because, at age 36, she was considered about being too young.
Then, one year later, Morris’ lump came back. This time, she went to the James Cancer Center in Columbus. Though the lump was not cancer, Morris was over the scares. Her doctors at James performed a Transverse Rectus Myocutaneous (TRAM) Flap procedure. The TRAM Flap procedure includes removing all breast tissue and then using abdominal muscle and tissue to reconstruct the breasts. She then had the option to have nipples tattooed on her newly formed breasts or to have nipples made.
“It’s (Morris’ breasts) actually my belly with 3-D tattooed nipples,” Morris stated about her breasts. “It really is pretty cool.”
She spent nearly a full day having her TRAM Flap surgery.
“It was a 23 ½ hour surgery all together,” Morris stated as she explained that the tissue kept dying so surgeons had to keep going in and doing repairs.
Morris has been cancer-free since 2012. Looking back, she says the hardest part was telling her children and losing her hair.
“I’m not vain, but the initial shock of losing my hair, cutting my hair was hard,” Morris said. “It was like a constant reminder. Every time you walk past a mirror, it’s (cancer) staring back at you.”
Losing her breasts, however, was not difficult, she explained.
“I wish I had insisted on it when Scarpinato thought I was too young,” Morris said.
Since having the TRAM Flap procedure, Morris says she longer has scares or gets mammograms. According to Morris, having her breast tissue removed earlier would have saved her stress of fearing the cancer would have come back.
Through her fight, Morris had her two early teenage children by her side. She is the mother of a son and daughter, of whom she says she couldn’t be more thankful.
“They were wonderful,” she commented. “They were absolutely wonderful, so much help. They were always ready to help me whether I needed help or not.”
Morris has had no more scares. In fact, because of the TRAM Flap procedure, she no longer even gets mammograms.
After living through all the ugliness of breast cancer with her own fight and the fight of her grandmother, Morris urges all women to do self checks and care for their own health.
“As soon as you’re able to get a mammogram, get it,” she stressed.”If you think you have a problem, find a doctor that will check it out. Keep searching, begging, whatever it takes to get the help you need.”
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.