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Single mom with rare, aggressive breast cancer to other women: Don't wait to get checked

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Shyniqua Gray, right, with her son Bryson. (Photo: Courtesy Shyniqua Gray)

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Yahoo Lifestyle will be publishing first-person accounts of those who have been affected by the disease, which will be responsible for the deaths of an estimated 40,920 women (and nearly 500 men) this year. All women have about a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing some form of the breast cancer. Awareness, screenings, and early detection can save lives. 

This is the story of Shyniqua Gray, 27, as told to Beth Greenfield for Yahoo Lifestyle. Gray, of Columbia, South Carolina, was recently diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for just 15 percent of all breast cancers, and affects African-American women three times more than Caucasian women. “Triple-negative” means that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel breast cancer growth — estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene — are not present, which can make it more aggressive and difficult to treat.

I was in the shower one night back in January, and I felt a lump in my breast. I didn’t think it was breast cancer. Right before this I lost a lot of weight, so I thought it was fatty tissue. Breast cancer doesn’t run on either side of my family.

I waited. And then I saw a lady I’ve known since elementary school post on Facebook that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer — after thinking it was fatty tissue. So that’s when I thought, let me go get checked. I went to my ob-gyn and he did [an exam] and felt the lump as well and sent me to have a mammogram done. That’s when they saw some concern. On August 29 I had a biopsy, and on September 4 I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

I was shocked. I’m so young, and this wasn’t something I would’ve thought of. You hear different people talking about breast cancer, but I had no knowledge of it, and had never heard of triple-negative breast cancer. I learned [it affects African-American women more], and I also learned they don’t have a cure for it like they do other breast cancers, so the only way to treat it is with chemo.

I’ll be on chemo for five months. They started me with two different medicines [on Sept. 24], and I’ll be on those every other week on a Monday for eight weeks. I have to go to Charleston, which is about an hour and 30 minutes [away]. My mother goes, my son goes, and my son’s father drives, but we go and come right back and don’t stay overnight. It’s draining.

I am a single mom of a 6-year-old boy, and I work at a BMW plant in inbound receiving, scanning in parts when they are delivered on trucks, and giving them to the line. I work 10 hours a day, third shift, from 7:30 at night to 6:10 in the morning.

Shyniqua Gray and her son. (Photo courtesy of Shyniqua Gray)

But I couldn’t go to work last week. I was weak; I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink. I was very tired, so I wasn’t able to go. I went to the doctor yesterday, and she noticed I lost four pounds and my white blood cell count was [low], so she took me out of work for eight weeks.

I won’t get paid because haven’t been on my job for a year to receive FMLA. I’m on Medicaid, and I also have health insurance with my job, so… I think I’ll be covered. My aunt created a GoFundMe page to help with income. Everybody’s trying to help the best way they can. Someone referred me to Shondia McFadden-Sabari, of Bold & Breastless, for emotional support, So I reached out to her on Facebook and she responded. She calls me several times a week to encourage me, pray for me, and motivate me. She shares my journey on her social media pages.

My son is taking it very well. I didn’t think he knew anything about it. When I got diagnosed, I did take him to my appointment, but I didn’t let him go in the back. All he saw was me crying. But one night, he was playing Fortnite with one of my best friend’s sons, and he was like, “My mom has breast cancer.” I was like, “Oh, lord, he knows.” Then we were on the phone with Shondia, and she asked to speak with him and just asked him some questions, like, “You know your mom has breast cancer?” and he was like, “Yes, ma’am,” and he said he’s been praying for me at school. He’s a big help. When I was sick last week, he was asking, “Mommy, are you you OK? Do you need anything?” and just coming in and giving me kisses and hugs.

I hope that, by telling my story, I can encourage someone who feels alone and also tell them: Don’t wait as long as I did. Go to the doctor. I just want to encourage and uplift women, and to let them know that it’s going to be OK. It is rough and it gets hard, but like my pastor told me, “It’s OK to cry, as long as you cry with faith, and it’s going to get better.” I’m going through it now. But I’m pretty strong.

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