SURVIVOR'S STORY: Demetria McCutcheon
BOB SLOAN Editor
To say that someone is well prepared for a battle with breast cancer seems unimaginable. For 52-year-old Demetria McCutcheon, the difficulties she had already survived and the losses she was able to endure certainly strengthened her will and resolve enough to equip her for such a fight.
Demetria is a survivor. This is her story of how she conquered breast cancer.
“The battle is not over, for sure,” she admits, “but I will prevail.”
In October of 2017, Demetria went in for her regular mammogram. Mammograms had become routine for her, but this time she felt that something was not right. Her left breast was very sore and swollen and it concerned her.
She soon received a letter asking her to come in for a follow-up. The follow up then led to a 3-D mammogram. 3-D mammograms differ from regular mammograms in that it takes multiple images to recreate a 3-dimensional picture of the breast. Traditional mammograms take a single image.
Even with the 3-D mammogram, doctors still could not diagnose Demetria. They scheduled a biopsy for just after Christmas.
“It was pretty hard to focus on the holidays and not think about the procedure, but I did my best,” Demetria recalled.
Demetria was visiting her family at her mother and father’s home on Jan. 2 when she received a call from her doctor’s office in Sumter. The nurse informed her that the biopsy had come back positive and that she had Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. She then asked Demetria if she knew of a surgeon to call.
“It was a shock to receive such bad news over the phone, but I am so thankful that it happened when I was surrounded by family,” Demetria said. “Because it happened that way, I think it assured me that God was orchestrating everything. He was still very much in control.”
Demetria has a very close family. One of seven children, she serves as an assistant pastor at her parent’s church, Her father, Carol and her mother, Mary, are both pastors at Holy Temple Pentecostal Assembly in Florence. Needless to say, this faith-centered family prayed upon learning diagnosis.
“I didn’t cry,” said Demetria. “I had to be strong for my family. I could not let them see me worried or fearful. I had to stay positive.
Demetria’s sister, Alina, said that is just part of her sister’s character.
“I am so proud of the way she has handled this,” said Alina. “She is the strongest woman I know. Almost the whole time she was trying to encourage and support others. She wanted to be there for our church family. Not many people could have dealt with the in the positive way that she did.”
Part of the reason for that could be that Demetria had been in very tough situations before and had found a way to survive.
Demetria says she a two-time survivor of domestic abuse.
“They were some bad, very bad relationships,” said Demetria. “Thankfully, there were people like the Pee Dee Coalition to help me out.”
Demetria has also suffered through rheumatoid arthritis, which affected her wrist so bad that it forced her to close her successful beauty shop.
She had also endured the loss of her younger sister, Arronetta Brown, who died of Lupus in 2010.
“Arronetta’s death affected my family terribly,” she said. “It left all of us very distraught. I remember I had to break the news to my dad and that was really hard.”
Demetria remembers breaking the news to her daughter, Valenta, then starting her senior year at South Florence High School. Demetria left her family to pick up Valenta from school. She broke the news to her on the way home.
“I just told her,” said Demetria. “She responded by saying she wasn’t sure if she could handle it. I told her she could.”
Valenta, now 19, says she prayed over and over that her mom would live long enough to see her to graduate from high school. Her aunt, Arronetta, had died of Lupus before her seeing her son graduate.
With her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, Demetria had a lumpectomy scheduled for Jan. 25. Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. About 80 percent of all breast cancers are ICDs. Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure in which a lump is removed from the breast, typically when cancer is present but has not spread.
Demetria’s lumpectomy was not completely successful, so a re-excision was ordered. A re-excision, means surgically reopening a lumpectomy site to try to remove a margin of tissue that is cancer-free.
In April, Demetria underwent a mastectomy, or breast removal.
“I had a few conversations with my doctors, not knowing whether this was something I wanted or needed to do,” admits Demetria. “After lots of prayer, I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Following the mastectomy, Demetria underwent four weeks of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiation.
She admits with ease that the chemo was by far the most difficult.
“That was hard,” said Demetria. “ I was sick, I was tired, I had no energy, and I could not eat.”
She said there was a particular song, “God Will Get Me Through” by Wess Morgan, that gave her assurance and strength.
“That’s what I kept telling my dad and mom, God will get us through it,” she said.
While trying to remain strong for family and others, Demetria admits there were a few times when it got to be too much. She said she let her guard down to her big brother Angelo, who was a cancer survivor, and to a dear friend in Virginia, Darlene Bishop, who had survived two bouts with breast cancer. She said they both offered great comfort and encouragement.
She also said there was a family friend by the name of Mr. Kent who was a great support in her time of need.
It was during the first part of her chemo treatments that Demetria attended her daughter’s graduation ceremony at the Florence Center. She needed assistance and had to wear a mask and gloves to prevent the possibility of contacting anything contagious, but she was determined to see her daughter walk across the stage and get her diploma.
“There was nothing that could keep me from being there for my baby,” she said. “It was important to her, but it was important to me too.”
Demetria remembers ringing the bell when her last chemo treatment had concluded.
“Oh, I rang it and rang it and rang it,” she said. “I rang it so hard they were worried I was going to break it.”
Radiation treatments began in September and lasted for six weeks, fives days each week. When her hair started falling out, Demetria said she had to fight off lots of negative thoughts.
“I was a hair stylist, so hair was a very important,” she said. ‘I had to keep telling myself, ‘you can’t let your hair define you,’ and I didn’t.”
Just before Thanksgiving she received the news, this time in person at the doctor’s office that “everything looks fine.”
“I maintained my composure in the doctor’s office, but when I got out into the parking lot I danced and screamed for joy,” said Demetria. “There were happy tears and I thanked god for his deliverance.”
Demetria began counseling, which she said has been very helpful for her and has given her an opportunity to share what she has learned from her fight with others.
In June she underwent reconstructive surgery using her own tissue. She’s not back at work yet, but hopes to return soon.
What would she tell those who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer?
“God will get you through,” said Demetria. “It’s okay to cry and have your moment. It’s as devastating a moment as you can face, but it is not the end. It’s all in how you handle it. It’s about trusting God, relying on your support, and how you feel about yourself. No negativity allowed.”
She keeps a scrapbook of photos, bookmarks, certificates, cards and other things collected during her breast cancer battle. She says that while some may see it as odd to keep such things as souvenirs, there is a purpose.
“It is a reminder that I am a survivor.”