According to the World Health Organization, “In 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685,000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer… Approximately 0.5-1% of breast cancers occur in men.”
Carla Hill, teacher, arts program director, television host, former Miami Dolphins Cheerleader, cancer survivor and warrior is part of these sobering statistics. But, the fight within and a very personal example of survival spurred her into action.
“My mother Hazel taught me the importance of doing a self-exam. When I felt the lump in my breast in 2005, something in me immediately knew that it would not be good news. I wasn’t scared at first, I went into ‘lioness mode’. I observed my mother do this during her own battle with cancer; she’s now an over 30-year cancer survivor. I started to come up with a plan of attack. I didn’t know I needed to be scared because that wasn’t my example. I moved forward with a ferocious will to live,” said Hill.
LIFE WITH A PURPOSE
She certainly is an example of living life with a purpose, against odds with fierce determination. Not only was she diagnosed with breast cancer twice, she had previous health issues that required a kidney transplant, a successful one! And of course, dealing with cancer treatments over the years had its negative effects as well, among them mental stress.
Hill explained that she ignored her own mental health for years not wanting to appear weak, which always takes a toll. Her advice?
“Today, I would say to anyone dealing with cancer or any health journey is that you must acknowledge your feelings and sit with them a while. This illness isn’t your fault. If the feelings don’t go away or interrupt your day, see a mental health professional.”
Treatment for breast cancer varies according to the type of cancer and the stage (II, III, or IV). Options include surgery to remove the tumor, radiation to stop the spread to surrounding tissues, medications such as chemotherapy or hormones to help kill cancer cells. Some women opt to remove the cancerous breast completely. This was Hill’s choice.
“I chose mastectomy because by removing my breast, I removed the tumor as well as the margin in which it grew. Yes, there was the option of a lumpectomy. I didn’t want to live my life constantly thinking about the possibility of the margins of the tumor becoming active again. ‘Chop them off’ and be done with it!”
Many women who go through radical mastectomy, the removal of both breasts, like Hill did, have reconstructive surgery creating ‘new breasts’. This kind of operation may involve implants using gel or salt water filled silicone balloons to replace all or some of the breast tissue, reshaping the breast from the body’s own tissue, or a combination of the two. The advantage is obviously having breasts again. But, disadvantages could include blood clots, infection, leakage, unequal breasts. Hill made her decision based on much research.
“I also wasn’t interested in reconstruction. At the time of my first cancer I had only had my kidney transplant for five years. Kidney transplant medications keep one’s immune system suppressed. I just couldn't see putting myself in the position of undergoing more surgery that had the potential to put my transplanted kidney in jeopardy if, for instance, I got an infection from the reconstruction,” she explained.
MORE THAN PINK
Hill wants to impress on cancer patients that they always have choices, it is theirs to make once armed with all the information. Also important, she said, is finding something to focus on,
something that motivates you, that becomes your therapy. For this advocate it is fashion. She finds independent designers whose designs are perfect on her body.
“I love analyzing fashion and deconstructing it to make it look just as fabulous on me without having breasts. Hence my online handle, @brstlssbeauty (no vowels in the breast because I have none,” she said with a laugh.
On a more serious note, this lover of the arts has teamed up with a cancer awareness organization to educate the community on this most pernicious health issue.
“Whenever I can combine my love of Soca music with making my Caribbean community aware of their health it’s a win! That’s why the Susan G. Komen More Than Pink Walk is important to my family. We started as a family of 5 walking for my mom over 25 years ago. Once I married my husband Marlon, we turned the walk into an opportunity to encourage our community to make breast health a part of their family conversations. We do the walk because of the women, men, and families who’ve said that our story inspired them to check on their health. We’ve heard many stories of people who were able to detect their cancer early and are now living their lives normally,” Hill explained.
Carla and Marlon Hill are now celebrating 25 years of marriage and are proud of their contribution to the work the Susan G. Komen organization has been doing around breast cancer awareness. A well known attorney in South Florida, Marlon Hill has supported his wife in her cancer journey as her Cancer Warrior partner. In fact, to celebrate their 25th anniversary, the Hills will host a team of walkers dubbed Team Dlimers at the More Than Pink Walk on Saturday, October 14, 2023. They encourage the community to come out and be part of a positive, empowered effort called life.
“Having survived cancer and a kidney transplant, I understand the importance of living my most bold life now. I make no excuses for who I am and what makes me happy. My health journey will forever affect me. Sometimes an innocuous pain might get my mind spinning, ‘What is that? Do I need a doctor?’ I’m constantly reminding myself to live in the now and not let fear create a soap opera of dread in my head. It’s easier said than done. I’m working on me and staying present all the time.”