After losing mother-in-law to cancer, woman’s vigilance saved her life
KINGSTON, Jamaica – After the devastating loss of her mother-in-law to breast cancer, Annette Robotham turned tragedy into vigilance, promptly scheduling her annual mammogram. Little did she know that this decision would prove life-saving, as it led to the early detection of breast cancer, altering the course of her health journey.
The now 12-year breast cancer survivor told Observer Online that she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2011, aged 58.
“…I just asked the surgeon to give me an appointment. I was diagnosed the Friday and was under the knife by the following Thursday because I decided I was not waiting,” she said.
She chose to do reconstruction surgery, a decision she said she later regretted.
“Unfortunately for me, I chose to do reconstruction surgery and that to me was the biggest part of my recovery. I did the breast and it was the skin sparing mastectomy so they saved the skin so that they could do a reconstruction, and then I ended up with the skin dying and I had to go back in and cut out some more,” Robotham said.
“What I discovered with mine is that where the lump was, was not the only place that there was cancer. When they tested the rest of the breast tissue, there was more cancer in the tissue in other areas that were not yet showing up on the mammogram. I believe that if I had just taken off the breast, I wouldn’t have had those issues,” she explained.
Robotham struggled financially and emotionally, and often worried that the cancer would spread to the other breast.
“Financially I struggled because it is not something that I had foreseen because there is no family history. For the radiation, I had to find $2 million and the insurance paid $300,000 because radiation is not covered by the National Health Fund…[There were] a lot of emotional turmoil. I struggled a lot, I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes…maybe some is in the skin from the skin sparing, I wanted to see my son grow up,” she said.
Additionally, five weeks of radiation treatment left her with a violent cough due to lung damage, she said. However, she is now cancer-free and enjoying life.
The 70-year-old mother of three expressed that she could not have gone through this “very traumatic experience” without the support of her family.
“I did have a strong family base and support…Even when I was trying to save the breast because people say men not going to like you if you do that and all of that story and my husband Denis was like take it off. It is better that you don’t have it and you live than you try and save it and you die. I did have that kind of support,” Robotham noted.
Now serving as the General Manager at the College of Insurance and Professional Studies, Robotham has assisted others during their diagnosis and also shares her story at churches and as a toastmaster.
“…In my job I have staff members that call me now when they have members of their staff who have gotten a cancer diagnosis and I take them right through the process…I’m always willing to help anybody and I don’t hide that I’ve had it. People who have had it need to share their experience with someone and be a mentor system for someone who is going through the issues of losing a breast,” Robotham told Observer Online.
She said she is most grateful to be able to watch her three children grow while enjoying the privilege of being a grandmother.
“My outlook on life has changed as I think I have to enjoy life more. I take each moment, savour the small things in life, enjoy time with my children and grandchildren because I really don’t know when it will come back,” she pointed out.
Robotham grew up in Golden Spring in St Andrew and was very active during her youth. In fact, she played netball and hockey for St Andrew High School for Girls and played netball for GraceKennedy Limited. Her lifestyle became sedentary when she started having children, but she said, prior to her diagnosis, she had joined an exercise group and was active daily.
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. It primarily affects women, but it can also occur in men, although it is much less common. In a global effort to raise awareness on breast cancer, October has been designated as the Pink Month to educate those concerned about the disease, including early identification and signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer.