Carla Henson was weeks away from having a mammogram in 2004 when she noticed symptoms that wouldn’t let her wait for that screening before seeing a doctor.
She’d had some back pain while working as a traveling nurse on assignment in Texas. She also began feeling fatigued – not out of the ordinary for night shifts, she thought. But a week after the fatigue started, another symptom stopped Carla in her tracks.
“I noticed that one of my breasts was very red and swollen. I knew I needed to have that checked,” says Carla, now a care coordination supervisor for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
An unexpected diagnosis
With no family history of breast cancer or previous concerns, Carla went to the ER thinking this might be a bug bite. The ER doctor ruled that out and wanted Carla to see a specialist.
She found a doctor and got a biopsy scheduled. The results of the biopsy hit her hard.
“He said breast cancer. Then I called my doctor in Memphis who told me to come home,” Carla remembers.
Further tests pointed to inflammatory breast cancer – a type that accounts for only 0.5% of 2% of invasive breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. but may be higher elsewhere. It had spread to other parts of her body, including a tumor on her spine which could cause paralysis.
Carla says her doctor was supportive even as he gave her a grim prognosis. But with her family to support her, and her faith to strengthen her, she pressed on.
Good news after troublesome outlook
Carla had radiation to shrink the tumor and reduce the paralysis risk. That was followed by months of chemotherapy and more radiation treatments.
“I was weak and tired, but my drive was to not let this cancer get the best of me,” Carla explains. “My husband and my mother cried with me, held my hand, and encouraged me to fight.”
When she finished treatment, she had more tests prior to having a mastectomy. What she heard from her doctors after those tests blew her away.
“They didn’t see cancer in my breast, my lungs, or my spine,” says Carla.
A second fight to survive
The first few months following that news, Carla says she tip-toed through life with the continual follow-up tests and appointments. She felt more at ease as intervals between visits grew with each good test result.
But cancer would give Carla another challenge when it came back in 2009. She knew what to expect this time around. And she again relied on her faith and encouraged herself with the thought that each day is a victory.
“I’ve done this before, and I’m ready to do this again,” Carla remembers thinking as she prepared for the mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction surgery that were ahead.
“I never let myself think that I wasn’t going to make it. I said, ‘if God wants to take me home, I’m going to be doing things I love like working in my yard and flower garden’.”
Words of wisdom for others
Now a two-time breast cancer survivor, Carla tells her story to encourage friends and co-workers.
“Breast cancer is like a marathon. You take it day by day, moment by moment and step by step,” says Carla.
She also reminds others of the importance of regular breast cancer screenings and the critical role that trusting her instincts had on her health outcome.
“Even if you’re scared that it’s something serious, it’s better to catch it as early as possible.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.