According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, as of 2022, an estimated 287,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States as well as 51,400 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. As you probably know, this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but just how aware are we about Breast Cancer these days? Do we have all of the tools we need to be aware ?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Czarina Matthews, an amazing warrior and survivor of breast cancer. She is also an author, realtor, digital influencer, podcaster, and mental health advocate. She has many more layers outside of her fight against cancer, but it’s a cause dear to her heart.
When I met Matthews virtually, I could tell she was a very empowered warrior right away from her demeanor, which is an amazing space to be in when you’ve experienced such a trying journey.
“I’d like to think that it began way before I was diagnosed, but I was diagnosed on my 38th birthday in 2018. I say that I’d like to think that the journey began before I received the actual diagnosis because before I was diagnosed what brought me to the doctor to even find out was a breakdown. I can remember it like it was five minutes ago. One day after work that evening I was getting in the shower and I felt a hard, cord-like vein sticking out of my left breast protruding out of my skin. When I touched it, it hurt,” said Matthews.
She went to Google to find more information and learned that it could be something or could be nothing. She waited a couple of days and the vein protrusion was still there. At the recommendation of her husband, she reached out to her Obstetrics and Gynecology doctor but they didn’t have availability until three weeks later. However by that time, the protrusion had reduced. She later went in for a separate issue [the aforementioned breakdown], but remembered the issue with the protrusion. She recalls this moment as God downloading the memory of the protrusion to relay to her doctor. She had forgotten about it. She did have an indentation where the vein used to protrude. Her doctor did not find anything in her breast but she did find something under her left armpit.
“I think it’s really important to know what our normal breasts feel like and even go beyond that and feel up under your armpit, ladies and men,” she said.
Matthews doctor felt something under her left armpit and then sent her to get a mammogram, she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer after. She considers this as much more than a breast cancer diagnosis but also one as a result of her body responding to stress which is why she believes her journey began before being diagnosed.
“I was really upset that day. That day so much happened in my life that I just feel like the stress just compounded and compounded. I’m not saying that stress caused it, but it exasperated it. One of the first things I asked my doctor is, what do we do next? I went into warrior mode and I wanted to do any and everything I needed to do to survive this thing,” she said.
There is a common misconception that you should wait until 40 years old to get a mammogram and often you are advised to not get one until that age but this can be risky. According to the National Library of Medicine, 7 percent of women with breast cancer are diagnosed before the age of 40 years and the disease accounts for more than 40 percent of all cancer in women in this age group. Survival rates are worse when compared to older women. As you can see, this doesn’t add up to waiting until one is 40 years old.
“You are never too young or too old to know if something is going on in your body. If you reach out to your doctor and they deny you or you reach out to your insurance and they deny you please know that there are other resources out there for you to get screened no matter what age. I know somebody personally who was diagnosed at the age of 16. Just the fact that people are saying wait until 40, imagine how many cases we can catch before 40. I think it’s important to start teaching ladies to check themselves,” Matthews said.
Matthews wears a lot of hats in the things that she is passionate about and mental health is another one.
“I would say a couple of years prior to my diagnosis, my last baby was born in 2014. In 2016, I remember telling my doctor I felt like I still have postpartum depression. She was like you’re too far along and I don’t think that’s it. I was like something is going on. I went through a really deep, dark depression in my life. I was so stressed out, and overwhelmed, anxiety was at an all-time high. I was angry, bitter, and easily irritated. I couldn’t see the good in any situation. That’s why I say it played a part in breast cancer. I’m grateful for the journey though my life was threatened,” she said.
If you’re wondering what she is expressing as far as gratitude, she is thankful for the ways it helped her to change.
“I realized that I needed to change some things about myself. I literally had a vision of me on a hospital bed in white and I heard God say girl you gotta get yourself together, you gotta fix some things. As I was going through my treatment journey I found myself and I found peace going through it. A lot of people understandably would just break down and don’t know how to respond to such bad news. For me, I feel that I found myself and I found peace,” she said.
She went on to write a book, Finding Czarinaty: The Journey To Peace Through Cancer and Chaos which details her breast cancer journey as well as her personal experience with mental health.
“I felt like I found myself. There was an unexplainable peace about the whole thing. I learned some good things about myself and some not-so-good things about myself. It was about finding peace with who I am at the core of who God intended me to be and not to worry about what other people think and not comparing myself to other people. The understanding that God placed me on this journey. I needed to understand that part of it and the assignment that people are watching. They’re watching to see what you’re going to do, what you’re going to say, how you’re going to get through this. I went through it with my head held high. I didn’t have any hair and wore my bald head with pride with a smile on my face. That peace came from just knowing that I was going to make it,” she said.
Matthews isn’t saying that every day was all roses. She had her days understandably so, but she remembered her assignment.
“I had my days where I was crying in the shower, in the bed, days where I was getting dressed and putting on makeup so that my children wouldn’t see mommy so sick but I knew I had to show up,” she said.
Going back to the day that her doctor found the lesion under her armpit, by the time that she had a biopsy, the lump that started at the size of a pinky finger knuckle had grown to the size of a round bouncy ball. It was an aggressive form of cancer. If she hadn’t mentioned it to her doctor that day, things may look different.
Matthews is a warrior in every sense of the word. Her ability to be transparent about her breast cancer journey as well as her mental health journey is a story that will help so many people who may not be able to speak. We salute you, Czarina.
To learn more about Czarina and her work in Breast Cancer Awareness, click below: