Shock, anger, and disbelief were just a few of the emotions Vanetia Singleton experienced on July 5, 2017 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. You have cancer, was something she never expected to hear, given that the illness does not run in her family, but according to the American Cancer Society, 85% of breast cancer patients have no family history.[i] Vanetia does not recall getting into her car and driving away from the medical center that day, but she does remember phone calls from her SEEL coworkers as she headed back to the office. One of the calls was from her boss, telling her to go home and process the news. Her work family would have her back.
In her state of shock, Vanetia could not find her words, but her stepmom who was there to ask questions of the doctor. After losing her mom and maternal grandmother just 3 years prior, this support meant a great deal. “My girlfriends, Mercy, Sherita and Nina, the 3 Amigos, came with me to my appointments and helped me ask the questions that I could not... they were there front and center."
Between her date of diagnosis in July and her surgery date in August 2017, Vanetia had quite a few doctor visits and her “3 Amigos” were at every appointment. She had a partial lumpectomy to the left breast, with lymph node dissection. Prior to surgery, Vanetia was told her cancer was stage 1, but in post-op she was informed that it was stage 2, it was hormone receptor-positive, and had spread to her lymph nodes. At this moment, “fear set in all over again, I was afraid of having to face chemo and the chance of reoccurrence.”
After surgery, she rested at home and returned to work in September. In October, Dr. Jordan Maier and his team at Karmanos prepped her for external beam radiation therapy. This targeted form of radiation focused on Vanetia’s left breast, upper armpit, and the left side of her neck. She received daily treatments for 6 weeks. “Although I had returned to work full-time, SEEL allowed me to work half days to ensure that I made my daily appointments.” Because Vanetia’s cancer was hormone receptor-positive, her doctor prescribed a five-year course of a medication, Tamoxifen, to block estrogen and progesterone from attaching to cancer cells. This aims to reduce the possibility of a reoccurrence.
Just before Thanksgiving of that year, Vanetia completed all of her treatments and was given the news that she was cancer-free. Reflecting on this, Vanetia said, “you think that cancer-free means your life will return to normal, but it does not. There are days where I am extremely exhausted and just want to sleep... That is one of the major side effects to cancer and radiation treatment that I will have to live with. Honestly, a little exhaustion compared to dealing with rounds of chemotherapy – I will take any day because I have yet another day to fight!”
Each year since Vanetia’s diagnosis, SEEL has participated in the American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Walk. With the pandemic cancelling this year’s walk, the SEEL team made t-shirts in support of Vanetia. When discussing this support, Vanetia said “that made me so happy knowing that my SEEL family cared and they even came out to walk with me.”
Three years later, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Vanetia stated, “I am truly thankful to be able to share my story because I know this is a fight for many women across the world and I kicked cancer’s butt! And I am here to still FIGHT LIKE A GIRL!!