One woman shares her unexpected story of getting and defeating breast cancer.
Labor Day is a holiday in which Americans reflect on the contributions they have made in society. Whether celebrating with the smell of barbecue sizzling on the grill or enjoying time with family and friends, it is a day that people set aside to appreciate what they have in their life. For Felicia McClinton, however, this holiday changed her life.
During Labor Day weekend in 2010, McClinton was sitting on the couch at her house relaxing and watching a television show with her daughter. While enjoying what seemed to be a normal holiday weekend, her life took a turn for the worse when she decided to do a self examination of her body and she noticed a lump on one of her breasts.
“I panicked when I noticed the lump,” McClinton said. “I thought I felt something two months prior but I ignored it. In my gut feeling, I knew that this was something.”
At the time, McClinton neglected her own health to take care of the father of their two children, who was diagnosed with liver cancer. After she found the lump, however, it served as a wake up call for her.
Instead of enjoying the holiday, she woke up and went to the Baptist Hospital where Dr. Erin Cummins, a surgery doctor, ran a biopsy on her and diagnosed her with breast cancer.
McClinton said the news was very traumatic for her.
“I thought my life was over. I started crying. It was like my faith just left me for a minute,” McClinton said. “Then, I realized that God would never leave or forsake me.”
Born and raised in Washington Addition, a historical neighborhood in the west side of Jackson, Mississippi, McClinton is no stranger to her community, serving in the West Jackson Community Club to better her community and to give back to those in need.
McClinton, 54, considers herself a strong, hard-working woman. After watching her mother and ex-husband suffer from cancer, she was determined to win her battle against breast cancer.
“I never questioned why I received breast cancer. I am winner and I do not roll over easily against adversity,” McClinton said. “I told myself I was going to fight and that I am going to leave it in the hands of the Lord.”
McClinton went through a series of six treatments during her battle with cancer.
Initially, the doctors inserted a port under her skin. A port is a small disc made of plastic or metal that is about the size of a quarter. The port connects to a large vein through a soft thin tube called a catheter. McClinton received her chemotherapy medicine through a special needle that fits into the port, hoping to shrink the tumors before surgery.
However, when the port did not heal properly, the doctors installed a PICC line in McClinton’s arm, allowing her to receive the chemotherapy medicine and reduce the growth of her tumors. The PICC line is a long, thin, hollow tube that is installed above the bend of a patients’ elbow.
With each treatment, excluding the first one, McClinton suffered from different symptoms.
“After the first one, I did not feel sick. I did not lose any of my hair. My taste buds were still the same,” McClinton said. “During the second treatment, I got really sick, potato chips taste like cotton, my hair on my head started falling out, my nails got dark and my eyebrows were gone.”
McClinton decided that she did not want her daughter to come to treatments anymore, following the second one. Instead, her friends took turns going to treatment with her.
Jelicia McClinton, F. McClinton’s daughter, said witnessing her mom battle cancer was very difficult for her.
“Life was extremely stressful. I was trying to balance school, work and an internship while being the primary caregiver for my mom,” J. McClinton said. “There were days I felt like giving up and if it were not for my family and friends, I am not sure how I would have made it through.”
McClinton, who always had long healthy hair, began to lose her hair and said she did not really think about how important hair was to the everyday appearance of a person.
“I did not realize the affect it would have on me,” McClinton said. “It did not really bother me because I knew it would grow back. I was alive and that was all that mattered.”
As she continued on her battle, instead of wearing wigs, McClinton decided that she wanted to wear scarves and hats on her head.
Over the next two treatments before her surgery, McClinton continued to stay positive in her battle to defeat breast cancer. On the day of her surgery, McClinton recalled exactly what she told herself to remain positive.
“I asked the Lord to take control,” McClinton said. “I knew that I would be healed and I knew everything would be OK.
Indeed, the surgery went well for McClinton. She went back to the hospital every three weeks for her final two appointments.
Now, four years later, McClinton is cancer free. McClinton said beating breast cancer gave her a new outlook on life.
“Everyday, I ask the Lord to keep my body healed,” McClinton said. “This experience made me realize that if it is something that I want to do, I try to do it. Life is too short.”
While McClinton felt that she had to be there for her children, she said they played an instrumental role in helping her defeat breast cancer.
“Their father had experienced cancer so I had to be there for them,” McClinton said. At the same time, my children took good care of me. My son sat out an entire semester from school to be with me.”
McClinton also said this experience made her value her friendships with people even more.
“I am a stickler for friendship,” McClinton said. “My friends are not just friends; we are like parts of a family. Having faith and good friends made me stronger through it all.”
Jacqueline Jackson, one of McClinton’s best friends from their high school days at Jim Hill, said helping and witnessing her friend defeat breast cancer made them closer than ever before.
“I remember we when shopped for head dresses because she did not want to wear wigs,” Jackson said. “It was inspirational to see her struggle to become a survivor. She accomplished this with grace and humility.”
When McClinton is not following her normal routine of getting up in the morning, saying a prayer, reporting to work at 7 a.m. and returning home by 8 p.m., she shares her life-changing experience with others through speaking engagements, supporting various breast cancer initiatives, completing 5K runs and raising funds for the American Cancer Society (ACS).
With Labor Day behind her and the holiday season right around the corner, McClinton said she feels really good about the future ahead.
“I made it. I will continue to try to make a difference in someone’s life,” McClinton said. This truly made me a stronger person and now, I feel that I can go through anything in life.”