Sheila Thomas Knight credits God, family and her community for helping her deal with breast cancer.
“God, family, faith: That’s what’s gotten me through it,” she said. “I’m not one to sit around and whine and complain and I try to make the best of it. It’s definitely brought my family closer, because you always think it’s not going to happen to you.
“This town has been fantastic. Living in a small town is great when you have a crisis. I can’t walk into a store without somebody asking me how I’m doing or my parents can’t walk into a store without being asked how I’m doing — lots of people praying for me.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation says that an estimated 268,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2019. An estimated 41,760 women and 500 men will die of breast cancer this year.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women except for skin cancers. Lifetime risks for breast cancer are 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 1,000 for men. About 62 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at a localized stage, for which the 5-year survival rate is 99 percent. There are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. today.
Knight was diagnosed in September 2018. It was a surprise; she went in for regular tests and had gotten a clean mammogram the December before, and breast cancer doesn’t run in her family. But one day in the shower — basically overnight, she said — she found a mass.
“It’s scary,” Knight said. “The kind of cancer that I had is called HR2 positive. It’s very aggressive. (My doctor) said it could have been in there for a little while small... but 8-9 months. I mean, I showered one day and it wasn’t there. I showered the next day and I came down and it was like disfigured. I was like ‘That wasn’t there yesterday! What is that?’”
“I was 99 percent sure I knew what it was when I felt it,” Knight said. “There’s always that hope that it’s some benign growth. It was pretty big. I think my family fell apart worse than I did. I’ve had my moments, and I still do where you, there’s people that are so much worse off, and you see them and think ‘That could be me.’ But you can’t go there. I gave it to God, and I trust him.”
As part of her treatment, Knight has gone through nine rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and 28 days of radiation. She’s got three more rounds of chemotherapy left before reconstruction surgery.
And the fear that the cancer will come back remains. Doctors took out 16 lymph nodes as part of her surgery after a biopsy showed cancer in one of them. Knight says she’s been given a 15 percent chance of the cancer returning, and if it does it’ll most likely be in the brain or bone.
“The fear now is that it’s going to come back and if it’s in the brain or in the bone, especially in the bone, you won’t know it for a while,” she said. “My plan is ‘How can we stay on top of it?’”
Throughout it all, Knight said she wanted to keep up a positive attitude.
“You gotta trust God and make your own happy,” she said. “If I’ve got a week left or I’ve got 20 years left or 40 years left, make the best of it. It definitely brings that into focus, going through something like that, to live each day the best that you can and tell everybody that you love them. It hasn’t been horrible. The first chemo was pretty bad, I lost about 50 pounds.
“But again, you can find some bright light in that too!” Knight joked before deadpanning “It’s not a diet plan I recommend.”
Knight will celebrate her 35th wedding anniversary on Dec. 1 and her last chemotherapy session on Dec. 10, so she says she’ll definitely be celebrating.
Knight encourages everyone to do self-exams. To those going through cancer struggles right now, she encourages them to “give it to God.”
“Give it to God, stay positive. Have somebody. Reach out,” she said. “There’s a ton of help out there if you don’t have the family support; You can go through Texas Oncology, you can do cancer.com...
“If you will allow him to give you that peace, he will,” she said. “If it’s time, then I’m ready. I don’t want to die by any means; I’ve got way too much to live for, but I’m not scared of that either. It’s not a death sentence, that’s what I’d tell them. You can live through it and be happy.”