Healing, growing and living - Nyree Coke’s journey to full recovery after breast cancer diagnosis
“I think I fell into the all too familiar trap of thinking that breast cancer is something that happens to other people and I could afford to be less vigilant than I should be,” Nyree Coke shared with Living.
The operations manager at communications and entertainment firm, FLOW Jamaica, is now on the path to full recovery after her scary encounter with breast cancer.
Like many diagnosed with the much-feared disease, which is the leading cancer among Jamaican women, Nyree had a surreal moment when she was diagnosed in April 2020.
“My perception of breast cancer, prior to my own personal experience, was that it was a lot more easily detectable by the person than it actually was, and that if I didn’t have a significant history of the disease then I had nothing to worry about,” Coke shared as she reflected on the start of her journey with the disease.
She had paid her doctor a follow-up visit after a previous needle biopsy had indicated a benign abnormality in one of her breasts. Out of an abundance of caution, and with no real concern about the prognosis, her medical team had performed a lumpectomy.
Coke recalled being in a daze as her doctor shared the shocking news.
“We sat together to review, and I have a very clear memory of the change in his physical expression and him saying, ‘Nyree, we need to have another discussion’. I can’t honestly say I remember much of the details of that initial conversation. I knew I was not processing any of the details,” Coke recalled. “I had to ask the doctor to call my brother in order to have the details directly explained to him.”
At age 44, Coke was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, in situ – a stage 0 cancer. After recovering from her shock, her thoughts swirled around the possibility of having radiation or chemotherapy, which for her were the obvious modes of treatment. She later learnt, however, that surgery was the preferred approach in managing her diagnosis. Before deciding on surgery, she did various additional tests on the advice of her oncologist and had visits with a plastic surgeon to examine her options for surgical reconstruction.
Coming to terms with her diagnosis was no easy feat for Coke, and sharing the news with her family and close friends was an emotional challenge she had not anticipated.
LOVE AND SUPPORT
“It was more difficult than I expected, to tell the people who love me that there was something wrong. There were some tears, some shock and disbelief but more than anything, what I received was an overwhelming outpouring of love and support. I am very fortunate to have a rock-solid support system which has never wavered,” an emotional Coke recounted.
For Coke, the recovery process has been an ongoing lesson in patience, endurance and self-acceptance.
“I must say that the surgical experience was not nearly as frightening as I had blown it up in my mind to be. I spent one night in hospital and two weeks recovering at my brother’s house. I did not experience any significant pain or discomfort, and within five days, I felt almost normal.”
Coke is on the road to completing the reconstructive portion of her recovery process. “I currently have a breast tissue expander on my right side. The expander will be filled with saline to stretch my skin, and then, at the appropriate time, the expander will be replaced with a silicone breast implant,” she shared.
The process has been slower than Coke had hoped, and frustrating because she is anxious to get back to the things she was able to do before her diagnosis. While she is back at work, she is being guided by her doctors, who are happy with the pace of her recovery process.
“They have reassured me that ‘back to normal’ will come eventually, but for now, I have to allow my body to heal in its own time. I cannot set that schedule,” she added.
Given her experience, Coke is maintaining a positive outlook and had this word of encouragement for other persons facing cancer.
“If you’ve been recently diagnosed, you will get through this. I know you’re scared and unsure of the future, and that is okay. Some days you will not have the physical or mental energy to move, and that’s okay too!”
She continued, “Give yourself the grace to have those moments. What is happening to you is big, it’s okay to give yourself time to sit with your emotions, but do not stay there. Even with this big thing going on, remember you still have to live. It’s okay to laugh and forget it sometimes. You had a whole life before your diagnosis, and that life still needs to be lived.”
Coke also emphasised the message that ‘early detection saves lives’ and is urging persons to get tested once they are in the risk category. She also hopes that sharing her experience will provide insight for many women and propel those who need to get tested to avoid delay.