Jean Archer learning lessons through breast cancer fightFriday, October 22, 2021
By Vanessa James
The pain in her left breast after wiping a rag over it while showering immediately rang an alarm bell for Jean Archer. While there weren't any other symptoms, she knew that a visit to the doctor was the only way to get answers. So the following morning she visited the clinic which confirmed her fears; something was definitely wrong. With a referral, she showed up at the Spanish Town Hospital where a series of tests were done.
“That Thursday morning I did all of my tests, like x-ray and mammogram and they told me to come back to the Spanish Town Hospital the Monday, to do a fine needle procedure.
“The following Thursday It was confirmed that I have stage two breast cancer and I started crying because I expected (somebody) to tell me that I have glaucoma or diabetes because that runs in the family, cancer doesn't run in it,” Archer recalled.
This was the start of many lessons for Archer who was 48 at the time, but she believed, like her mother kept encouraging her, 'God does things for a purpose'.
Six months following her diagnosis, Archer was slated to do surgery to begin her fight against breast cancer.
“When I went to Spanish Town Hospital I reached there from about 6:30 in the morning and me and another young lady did not get on the ward until 9 in the night. That Monday was a very trying day. We were supposed to do the surgery on the Wednesday and on the Tuesday, my anaesthesiologist came and told me that my thyroid level was too high so I didn't get to do the surgery. I started crying again because I just wanted to get it over with. Again, my mother was there and she said, 'Don't cry, God does things for a purpose',” Archer relayed.
She went on to share that she had to get a test done in Kingston for the thyroid issue, before returning to the Spanish Town Hospital.
“The results came back and my thyroid was okay. So the Friday I had to do the surgery. I removed my left breast on August 14, 2014. I remember when I came out of that surgery, God was so good to me again,” Archer shared.
Chemotherapy began three months following Archer's mastectomy. She explained that this was another time that God had a hand in her treatment, as it had to be adjusted following the doctor's realisation that she had fluid around her heart.
Archer disclosed that as a result, she did not receive the medication she was initially supposed to get but another, though more expensive and had to be sourced, which allowed her to do only four chemotherapy sessions.
“Chemo was sort of nerve wracking though, it made me feel sick and I felt like I wanted to brush my teeth every minute, it was like dirt in my mouth, my tongue felt heavy and I slept a lot. I think people need to do more for cancer in Jamaica because patients go through a lot. Your fingernails start getting black, sometimes they split, some people's skin get darker but I didn't change much, only my fingernails got a little black,” she explained.
Radiation followed, which she did every day for six weeks except on holidays. Since then, Archer has enjoyed seven cancer-free years.
“I am doing very well now, I have been in remission for seven years now. I wish I was eating better, that is one of my flaws but I am doing very well,” Archer said, “I am not concerned about cancer coming back because I beg God every day that I get up not to let it return and I believe it won't come back.”
Though it was unexpected, Archer has shared that she has learnt many lessons after beating breast cancer. One of which is how important support from family and friends is when dealing with a disease of this type.
She shared that having the support of her family helped in her fight, especially that of her mother and her sister Carlene Breese who would sometimes go the extra mile while Archer underwent chemotherapy treatments.
Sadly, Archer's mother lost her own cancer battle last year. Losing her confidant has been especially hard for Archer, but she is taking each day as it comes.
Archer went on to share that external support where cancer warriors can share stories with each other is also very important. So, along with expressing gratitude to her family, Archer thanked the Reach To Recovery programme which is done through the Jamaica Cancer Society.
“It is an awesome foundation for support. I miss my support meetings at the church in Half-Way-Tree with Mrs Graham. So if you don't have [familial] support, they will support you through the difficult time,” she said, “People can join every second Tuesday of every month and can contact JCS and get information for the virtual meetings.”
Archer further implored people to keep making donations and keep showing their support in this way, as there are many with cancer who need help.
And to those still fighting cancer, she had this to say:
“Lean on your support system because what I realise is when your support system is not there that is when you go down. Breast cancer is not a death sentence, it can be cured but you have to change your lifestyle, change your diet and pray because God is good and God is always there.”