PORT ARTHUR —
Sharita Solaire has been cancer free for 17 years — long enough to watch her children grow into adults and fill her house with grandchildren.
At 53, the Port Arthur resident knows she’s blessed, and lives each day to the fullest, thankful that her breast cancer was discovered early enough to beat the disease.
“I caught it in the second stage, early enough to do something about it,” Solaire said.
She remembers finding out she had breast cancer as if it were yesterday.
“The kids always slept with me. One night one of them kicked me in the breast; it was real tender, so I immediately went to the doctor,” she said.
Without that quick action, her battle with breast cancer very likely would have been much different.
Solaire is a advocate of early detection, with a message that women, and men too, should be pro-active in the fight against breast cancer.
As October draws to a close, and with it this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, it is important for women to perform self exams, schedule regular mammograms in an effort to catch the disease early on.
“The earlier the disease is caught, the easier, and the most cost effective, it is to treat that disease,” Telice Meadows, a registered nurse with Julie Rogers Gift of Life, said Wednesday.
It is most important women do monthly breast exams, and notify health care officials immediately if they suspect something to be abnormal, Meadows said.
Early detection not only increases the chance of survival, but also makes treatment easier to bear. Sometimes surgery is enough, without the need for chemotherapy or radiation.
Those with a family history of breast cancer should be cognizant of that fact, schedule regular mammograms and perform monthly self exams, Meadows said.
It was Solaire’s knowledge of a family history of the disease that prompted her to go to the doctor as soon as she felt a tenderness in her breast.
Seventeen years ago, in 1996 when Solaire was diagnosed, treatment was not as advanced as it is today.
Solaire well remembers under going two rounds of chemo and radiation, losing her hair — all while trying to raise a family and work.
“I told the Lord, you must think I have real broad shoulders because you have put a lot on me,” she said.
Today, Solaire lives an active life. She works full-time in the Medical Center of Southeast Texas’ physical therapy department, is married to husband, Robert, and babysits her five grandchildren three days a week.
She also volunteers with “Winners for Life,” the Julie Rogers Gift of Life breast cancer support group in Port Arthur.
“If you have cancer, you need to let someone know. I did not have anybody to talk to when I was in treatment, so I know how important a good support group is,” Solaire said.
“Winners for Life” each year raises money for medically unserved, or underserved women to have access to free mammograms through the Gift of Life organization.
“Cancer is not a death sentence now, like it once was. You can fight it, especially if it is detected early,” Solaire said.
The "Gift of Life" Breast Cancer Program makes available free mammograms, clinical breast exams and navigation to follow-up cancer treatment to medically underserved women in Southeast Texas, according to the group’s Web site.
To find out if you qualify for a free mammogram, call Gift of Life at (409) 860-3369.