Cocoa, FL, USA

Beyond Pink Ribbons: A Brevard Woman's Journey to Raise Awareness

BREVARD COUNTY, FL.- April Mcgee stands by the side of a bustling street, signaling to drivers as they pass by. Her arm bears the evidence of lost lymph nodes, and her chest displays the remnants of 150 staples, a visible reminder of her arduous struggle against breast cancer. Although she grapples with feelings of vulnerability, her primary objective remains unchanged: to save lives.

"I don't know how much time I have left. It's not if it (cancer) comes back; it's when. I'm going to make a difference by saving lives because a pink ribbon shirt doesn't tell you anything. I need to save somebody's mom, sister, or daughter. This is the reality of breast cancer," April said.

The outcome of her initial mammogram changed her life permanently when it revealed stage 2B breast cancer and affected her lymph nodes. She had to bear the cost of the x-ray imaging herself because she lived from one paycheck to another. The first person she contacted was her husband, Paul.

"The diagnosis ripped through our life like a tornado. It threw stuff everywhere. I couldn't believe it. I was in my early 40s and had cancer," said April.

Paul was the sole witness to the physical changes caused by the multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments that April had undergone. Standing on the sidewalk with a sign that read, "F-- Cancer," April unveiled the visible consequences of her fight against the disease to the people in her community in Brevard County, Florida. The supportive honks, flashing sirens, lights from emergency vehicles, and encouragement from strangers gave her the courage and resilience to overcome her unease and muster strength during this highly emotional moment.

The experience of breast cancer is not adorned with attractive pink ribbons, and it does not lead to any physical enhancement. It entails waiting in a sterile, colorless room for a medical professional to enter wearing protective gear, including suits, shoe covers, masks, and gloves. They administer a potent drug known as the "red devil" beneath the skin, endangering patients' lives to keep them alive.

"During treatment, I barely existed while everyone was going on with their lives. Cancer doesn't just go away. The treatments may stop for now, but this doesn't just go away," said April.

Treatments may bring about adverse reactions like persistent vomiting, altering the taste of food to a metallic flavor, struggling to eat, and enduring excruciating moments of agony that reduce you to an empty shell of a person on the bathroom floor, allowing the pain to consume you as tears flow endlessly, leaving your spouse outside feeling powerless. It entails immersing oneself in freezing baths, experiencing immense fatigue, facing the possibility of infection, experiencing memory loss, and bidding farewell to parts of your body that you had observed in mirrors for four decades.

April recalls the first time her bandages were removed after her mastectomy. The room was off-limits to anyone else, leaving her to confront the disfigurement the surgery had caused to her body. She reminisces about the aftermath, sitting in a car and staring at the exterior of a medical facility. Tears streamed down her face as she contemplated the countless individuals who experienced solitude and lacked the solace of a caring touch or companionship during their darkest times.

In addition, she contemplates the time she placed a radiation mold inside a cupboard where patients stored their personalized masks. When she opened the closet, she was astonished by the sheer number of radiotherapy masks and thought of many people enduring the same treatment. As the fourth week of her treatment arrived, her skin suffered severe burns, rendering her incapable of wearing any garments.

"One of every eight homes you pass in your neighborhood will have breast cancer. Think about that," says April.

A misconception held by most people is that not possessing genes like BRCA exempts them from the risk of cancer, a false hope that April vividly remembers discussing with her sister. The risk of developing specific forms of cancer can be influenced by factors such as lifestyle, environment, and diet. Aware of the financial struggles that prevent many women in her community from accessing mammograms, April is actively working towards generating funds and spreading awareness to support this crucial service.

Approximately 1 out of every eight women in the United States will experience the development of breast cancer over their lifetime, as stated by the American Cancer Society. April's intention is not to create fear; she highlights the value of supporting local individuals by generating funds to aid one's neighbors directly, the people who reside nearby. "If you wish to assist individuals in your community, contribute towards mammograms and ensure your funds benefit those in your neighborhood," she suggests. Several ways to provide support include distributing food and gas cards, helping with bills, and promoting awareness about early detection and prevention strategies.

April emphasizes that "No one has to fight alone" as she waves through the heat and painful side effects of swelling arms and exhaustion to bring awareness of the unbearable reality of breast cancer. She aims to provide underprivileged women in her community with life-saving screening, ensuring they have a fighting chance against this devastating disease if detected.

April plans to be on 520 and Forrest Avenue on Saturday, October 14, 2023, at 9:00 a.m. and will be standing at different locations throughout Brevard County for the remainder of October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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