When Sonya Porter says the key to surviving breast cancer is early detection, she’s not just parroting an oft-repeated phrase; it’s what saved her life.
Porter knows firsthand how her own outcome could have been much worse had she not been going for routine mammograms since she was 40 years old.
Because her sister, Bonnie Cronic-Holcombe, has stage 4 breast cancer, Porter made sure to get checked often, knowing she also could be vulnerable to the disease.
In November 2017, at age 50 — the same age her sister learned she had breast cancer — Porter was diagnosed with mucinous carcinoma of the breast
“I got lucky,” said Porter, 51, who works for North Georgia Medical Transport.
Because her cancer was caught early, doctors were able to remove it and start chemotherapy right away. After a biopsy was done, however, doctors found more cancer, a different kind. Porter was also diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.
Although she said she is always tough and positive and has a lot of life left to live, there were times when she was worried, especially when doctors first told her the tumor they found was cancerous.
“I thought I was going to die,” Porter said. “My first question was, ‘How bad is it?’ Because you don’t know until they get in there.”
Porter underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and 21 straight days of radiation. Now she is healthy again and will go back in November for another mammogram, one year after her original diagnosis, to make sure all of the cancer has been removed.
“Chemo is bad, but radiation was bad, too,” she said. “The doctors are real convinced they got everything, though.”
Porter was used to being the outgoing one around the office, always keeping her co-workers laughing throughout the day. When she got cancer, those days became less frequent, but she never missed a day of work except when she underwent chemo treatments. But Porter said people could tell when she was having a tough time.
She said she wouldn’t have been able to get through her treatment without her work family. They helped keep the office and her desk clean so she didn’t get sick.
“There was a lot of Lysol,” Porter said.
If she was ever feeling tired, they told her to take a nap or go home. It was a family she said she was “blessed” to have.
“I have more energy now than I used to,” Porter said. “A lot more than I used to. They said that’s the chemo coming out, so I’m getting back to my old self.”
Getting back to her old self means going camping with friends and getting out in the garden tending to her flowers. It also means more bass fishing with her husband, Tony. Even when she had cancer, Porter and her husband would go fishing, but now it’s a little easier.
“I stayed busy just to keep my mind off of it,” Porter said. “I could have just laid there, but I’m not one to sit home ... I even bass-fished with my bald head. I covered up in sunscreen head to toe.”
There’s something peaceful about being on the lake they both enjoy, she said.
Worried she may be a carrier for breast cancer and perhaps pass it on to her daughter, Allison Little, Porter took the breast cancer susceptibility gene test. It’s a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“It showed I was negative, so hopefully I should not pass this on to my daughter,” Porter said.
The news of her cancer was at first kept from most friends and family; only her husband and sister knew. Her husband was there for comfort and support while her sister was able to answer questions since she was going through the same thing.
Her daughter, though, was pregnant. Porter didn’t want to put any stress on her, so once she had the baby a month later, Porter broke the news and since has had Little there for support.
Porter finished treatment in June and is trying to get back to normal life. Her hair is growing, she’s trying to stay active and she’s going out for pizza with friends and family.
And when asked how she moves on after everything she’s been through, Porter responded with that same positivity and toughness she had before she was diagnosed.
“I just keep going,” she said.