Shorma James says when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she barely blinked.
Even more remarkable is the fact, that the 50-year-old survivor, who has been hit with cancer not once, not twice, but three times, has refused to let her more than ten-year battle with the disease take away her infectious smile or kill her effervescent spirit.
“Yes, I have cancer, but you’ve got to live; you’ve got to move on. And my thing is where there is life there’s hope. The joy that is inside me never really went. If I cried maybe twice throughout my whole ordeal, I cried a lot; but there is this inner peace and this inner strength I guess that was always there, but you never knew you had until you hear the news that you have cancer.”
The first diagnosis came in 2003. It wasn’t how a woman at the peak of her life who loves to meet people and be places envisioned her life.
“I guess then I was ignorant to the fact of cancer, never thought about cancer. Nobody else as far as I was concerned was diagnosed with cancer in my family.”
On a normal day, Shorma discovered one of her nipples was bleeding and after receiving medical advice she had a minor operation to fix what the doctor explained was a broken duct that would heal.
“Every time I felt the area where that operation was done I felt like a lump there. At first, it was like really tiny. I went back to the doctor and he said it was scar tissue and it would eventually heal; but every time I felt it, it was getting bigger and bigger.”
Shorma sought a second opinion. It was cancer and though the diagnosis did not floor Shorma, she was taken aback about how the news was delivered.
“I had to wait quite a while. I had to keep calling the doctor and I would hear the results are not back as yet and then eventually one day I called, and she said to me you need to come. Obviously, when a doctor tells you come, you know that something is wrong; so I prepared myself.
“I took a friend with me went to the doctor’s office and from the time I opened the door she is like: I ain’t got no good news for you dah bubby go’ come off. How do you deal with that when somebody tells you that your breasts have to be taken off in that manner?”
Still the gravity of her situation didn’t cause Shorma to despair, though she admitted she was reluctant to tell her only daughter that she had cancer.
Shorma began her fight, proceeding to have the lump removed with a caution from the doctor.
“The doctor said to me you might need to take your breast off, but my cancer was contained in one area of the breast so my first option was to get the area removed and I lived with it for five more years.
The fight was far from over. In 2008, Shorma discovered some more lumps. She wasted no time mentioning it to her doctor who at first dismissed it as nothing.
But Shorma persisted for a thorough check and sure enough cancer was back.
“The lumps were very, very tiny, more tiny than the previous lumps. He [the doctor] said they were tiny tumours and if I had left them alone they would have grown into big tumours and eventually I would have to take the breast off. So I said, you know what, we are going to take the breast off and on January 4, 2008, the breast was taken off.”
Life for Shorma returned to some normalcy and she continued doing the things she loved most spending time with family and travelling.
In fact, it was during a trip to New York to visit her brother in 2012 that she discovered fresh lumps on the very area where her breast was removed.
Shorma was told for the third time she had cancer.
“I felt a tiny lump in the scar itself and I didn”t pay it any mind to be totally honest with you every day it seems to be getting bigger until one day. I just lifted my arms up and I looked and realized the lumps were getting bigger. They were blue I could actually see it under my skin back to the doctor again and by all means it was cancer.
“Nobody wants to have cancer for a third time, so for me it was a bit harsh but I’ve learnt to accept things and life as it comes.”
Like most cancer patients Shorma endured repeated rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“The first round of chemo did not affect me, but the second round was horrible. I felt that I was at death’s door. I remember my sister –– ironically, she’s dead now –– calling everybody to come see me for the last because it was so bad.”
The treatment caused Shorma to lose her long hair and weight. She also suffered an infection in her pancreas and later became a diabetic.
But Shorma got what she was fighting for: remission.
She’s well aware that the unwelcomed invader could return, but she boldly declares she won’t be going through chemotherapy or radiation therapy again.
“Doctors will always tell you that you are in remission and there’s a chance that your cancer will come back, but I’ve taken a stand. The last time I was diagnosed I refused to take chemo. I’ve had it twice already and my pancreas was infected and right now I am diabetic because of the treatment; so I took a stand that I am never going to take chemo again.
“I will probably try natural remedies, so I’m taking my chances, trying to eat and stay as healthy as possible.”
Shorma was however quick to point out that she’s not recommending that cancer patients follow her lead.
These days Shorma is living life to the fullest and busy sharing hope with the support group Victorious Ladies, set up by Cancer Support Services for survivors.
“I like to encourage people. I would pray with you at two or three in the morning. If I had to do six dozen interviews every day to be a source of encouragement to anybody I would do it.”
She also a skilled poetry writer sharing a bit of herself with messages of hope and love. Shorma reminds women everywhere to know their bodies and perform their monthly breast exams; and to those who are battling the illness, she offers a gentle reminder: “Cancer is not a death sentence . . . . Don”t hide it, because it only makes life harder for you.
“One of my favourite mottos in life? Why worry when you can pray? I am a strong believer in God; you can’t shake me.”