Almost 10 years ago, Teresa Davis joined an ever-growing list amongst women in her family — being diagnosed with breast cancer.
In mid-December 2011, Davis, 49, of Woodville, was getting prepared to attend a friend’s mother’s funeral. While showering, she stretched only to feel a lump on the right side of her breast.
Davis called her daughter into the room to examine the lump further to which her daughter “jumped back,” she said.
Days later, Davis found herself at the doctor, moving around to different parts of the building, being seen by different doctors.
“I know what they’re about to tell me,” Davis remembered thinking. “And I literally just started worshipping.”
Davis was diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I really didn’t have time to process it because everything happened so quick,” she said, adding she was also BRCA1 positive. “I really didn’t have time to grasp, “OK. I have breast cancer. I could die.’”
A person who is BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive means they have a mutation in their breast cancer genes, resulting in much higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer compared to others.
After hearing the news, Davis told her children.
“Everybody seemed strong,” she said. “Everybody handled it really well.”
Before telling her mother, Davis told her she had to decide whether she would worry or pray about the news. Her mother chose to pray.
Other people in Davis’s family - including aunts who had fought their own breast cancer battles - supported her throughout her treatment.
“I had more support than I could have ever imagined,” Davis said.
Admittedly, Davis wasn’t always strong through her fight.
She explained one “breakdown” she had while getting into the shower. She saw her profile in the mirror where she had no hair.
“All I could do was weep,” Davis said. “It wasn’t a ‘woe is me’ weep. It wasn’t a ‘why me’ weep. I don’t know why I was weeping.”
She underwent eight-hour weekly chemotherapy sessions before undergoing surgery and being declared cancer free in May 2012. The surgery removed a lymph node and her right breast. She also underwent a hysterectomy.
“The odds were stacked against me because most of the women, all of the women in my family who had gone through chemotherapy, they died,” Davis said. “The ones that only had to have surgery or only opted for surgery, they were the ones that were still living.”
As she entered the UVA Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center in Charlottesville for chemotherapy treatment, Davis would sing a worship song and became known as a “songbird.” She believed the Lord was using her as a way to lift up other patients fighting cancer in the facility.
Davis’s doctor, she said, indicated at the time she would more than likely have cancer again in the next three years because of the triple negative aspect of her diagnosis.
“But God had a plan, and here I am,” she said.
Five months after becoming cancer free, Davis underwent a TRAM flap procedure - where skin, fat and part of the abdominal muscles are used to reconstruct breasts. However, the procedure failed and had to be removed.
After living without breasts for four years, Davis said public opinions began to weigh on her.
“Because people are cruel, someone told me I look like a man, and I allowed that to get in my head,” she said. “They told me that I would never be able to appear sexy for a man if I was to get into another relationship.”
Davis elected to undergo surgery again to have her breast reconstructed with implants, but removed them after two years due to pain.
“I am without breasts, and I will remain without breasts because it's not worth it,” she said. “My quality of life is more important. Who cares what people say?”
Davis’s family used to celebrate her cancer free anniversary by having a fish fry, but haven't done so in some years.
“Now I just remember it,” she said. “I have my breast cancer flag flying.”
When remembering her years of anniversaries, Davis remembered when she was nearing her fifth anniversary when her mother was diagnosed with the identical type of breast cancer.
“The doctors were surprised because I got it before she did,” she said, adding her mother is also BRCA1 positive.
Luckily, Davis’s mother is about to celebrate four years cancer free.
Davis still struggles with the effects of her chemotherapy treatment by way of pain and confusion. She often doesn’t travel far because she forgets where she is going.
However, she still works and goes to school full time for cosmetology at the Culpeper Cosmetology Training Center.
Once a year she has to see an oncologist and breast surgeon. After a check-up about a month, everything still looks clear.
The advice Davis has for others going through their battle with breast cancer?
“Keep your head up and build your faith.”