EVERYBODY calls her Genie — a name that aptly describes the optimistic, bubbly spirit that Hygena Reid uses to light up every room that she enters. In fact, she is so happy and vibrant that you would perhaps find it hard to believe that she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer earlier this year, had one of her breasts removed, and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
The 52-year-old has been getting her checks done for the last 10 years, but the results were always normal. Up to last year October she had a mammogram performed that did not pick up any abnormalities.
“But you can do a mammogram today and get diagnosed with breast cancer tomorrow. That’s why you need to pay attention to your body,” the spry, petite survivor reasoned with All Woman .
“This year January, I realised one morning when I was going to work that one of my nipples was having a little itching. When I reached home that night the nipple was stuck to the brassiere. That’s when I realised that something was really wrong,” she recollected.
Reid was concerned, as she also felt as if her energy was being sapped from her body. She did not feel like doing the things that she normally enjoyed — singing, dancing, or going out to Old Hits parties. She went to see her general practitioner with what she thought were flu-like symptoms, but when she explained that her nipple was itchy, he referred her to a dermatologist.
“When I went to the dermatologist she gave me an ointment, because at that time she didn’t see any sore or anything like that. It was just the nipple that looked a little abnormal,” she shared. “She told me to come back in a month.”
When Reid returned to the dermatologist a month later, the doctor immediately referred her to do an ultrasound. The breast had become swollen from lumps and she was in a lot of pain. Based on the findings of the ultrasound exam, she was referred to have a biopsy done.
“I was so eager to get the results, because after I did the biopsy I started feeling more pain. It got very severe. It took me 10 days to get the results, and I called them every single day to ask if the results were ready,” she said, grimacing as the memory surfaced in her mind.
Accompanied by her spouse and her daughter, Reid boldly went for her results. She was instructed to return the document to her doctor, who would explain the results to her, but Reid would not have it. She pleaded with them to tell her if she had cancer there and then, which they did.
“I started getting ‘jiggy’ and nervous, and I just burst into tears and grabbed onto my spouse. The doctor comforted me saying that it’s a good thing I caught it early, but my daughter looked at the document and said, ‘this is not early, this is stage three’ and started to cry too,” Reid remembered.
But when she went back to work she returned as the same cheerful Genie that left. She held up three fingers and everyone in the office at the Jamaica Constabulary Force Human Resource Division immediately knew what it meant.
“I don’t hide anything from them. I always talk my business,” she laughed. “So they knew all of my business with the doctors. When I went in everybody just immediately started supporting me. They were hugging, talking and crying.”
Because of how advanced the cancer was, Reid had one breast removed within a matter of days of the prognosis in June. She is now undergoing her third round of chemotherapy treatment, and she rocks her pretty, bald head with confidence and pride. She is an active participant in the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery effort, and she uses her story and optimistic outlook to light a candle for cancer warriors who may be feeling dim.
“Before I was diagnosed, every time I heard about cancer I would only hear about the pain. Most of the people I knew with cancer are not here today, and it was just the pain that was always talked about,” she lamented. “But my co-workers and family say that I am the one who makes them strong. I am going through the sickness, but they are the ones who feel the pain for me.”
She said the support she received from family, friends, co-workers, the Cancer Society, and her church family at the Living Word Incarnate Pentecostal Gospel Shower has kept her positive despite the toll that the disease is taking on her body. She sees beyond her pain to offer a word of encouragement to others: “I encourage persons to just have faith and be strong. Don’t you ever pray asking God for deliverance, then go back to Him asking why. Once you pray, just leave it to God.”
Reid has about five rounds of chemotherapy left to go, which she does not expect to be easy, but she is confident that she will kick cancer to the kerb.
“Cancer is not a death sentence, and this is not my journey to death. I know I’m going to make it. I will fight this because I know that this is not my destiny,” she said determinedly.