Valdosta Daily Times

October 1, 2012

Nurse’s aide puts trust in God after breast lump found

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — On Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, Lavonda Anderson discovered there’s a chance that she has cancer, again.

And after boldly battling the illness for nearly three years, she’s reacting just as urgently to make a hard assessment of the threat and terminate it as soon, if it is identified.

The nurse’s aide and married mother of three wasn’t nearly finished with her five-year prescription of anastrozole, an estrogen inhibitor, when she says she discovered the recent lump on her breast. She notified her doctor immediately, she says, and has scheduled a mammogram for this coming Friday.

“I knew I was jumping on top of the issue early, but I was still a little nervous because of the side effects that the treatments brought along,” she says. “We live in bodies made of flesh, so naturally we’re always going to worry about our own mortality.”

She points up.

“When I tell you that I truly believe in God, I mean it,” she says. “I know what he’s done for me and I’ve witnessed a lot of healing in my church.”

Though her voice is briefly discolored by a tint of nervousness and uncertainty, she’s been here before and it shows.

She never stated that she was unafraid of the cancer. But she has made it clear that she is ready to follow her heavenly commander through another grueling campaign against an enemy that has claimed the lives of countless women and mercilessly tortured as many others, both directly or indirectly.

“With so much stereotyping surrounding the subject of cancer, a lot of people think you’re going to die when you get it,” says Anderson. “But I’m living proof that it is a sickness that can be defeated. God built me up so strong and molded me to the point that I could handle having cancer.”

In November 2008, just days after Anderson’s 40th birthday, doctors at the health department discovered a lump on one of Anderson’s breasts. Just under two months later, Anderson addressed her health concern head on with tests and expert opinion.

“The nurse and I didn’t see anything when we did the mammogram, but we did a biopsy a week later anyway,” says Anderson. “The test results, which came back around Jan. 18, stated that it was cancer in its first state — so we’d detected it early. But it was the machine that found it, not us.”

She says she had a lumpectomy a week later, and her physicians sent the extracted pea-sized lump out to have it tested and to determine her options.

“I wasn’t mad with God, I just told him that I would fight it. I know that God is a healer,” she says. “So when I got the news, I didn’t even cry. My mother, Sarah Burgman, was with me and she shed a few tears. I told her I’d be all right.”

Doctors analyzed 27 samples from her lymph nodes, says Anderson. Each specimen was clean, so she decided to go with chemical and radio therapy, she says.

On March 9, 2009, her treatment began. Her chemical regimen consisted of four rounds of shots every 21 days. And after each treatment, she had to go back for seven days of nitrogen mustard shots at South Georgia Medical Center’s Pearlman Cancer Center.

She recalls her first treatment, as her aunt, Mary Euline, stood in for Anderson’s sick mother who didn’t want to infect her chemo-bearing immune system.

“Every time the nurse would inject something into my IV, I’d ask, ‘was that the chemo?’” says Anderson. “And got more and more ready for it with each injection. But when she finally did it, I didn’t notice. So, I was just more scared.”

That foreboding feeling she felt materialized later that day in the form of nausea, vomiting, muted taste buds and the lingering taste of earth metals. But thankfully for Lavonda and the palates of her three kids, her mother took control of the household’s rations.

“My mom was my cook,” says Anderson. “I couldn’t cook for my kids because of my taste buds and I had no appetite for food. The only thing I could stomach was mash potatoes with lemon. Well, anything sour, because I could taste the acidity.”

Then came the radio.

She was subjected to 35 hours of DNA disintegrating radiotherapy everyday, for about a month. But by the end of September 2009, her treatment was complete.

The summer of 2009 was riddled with hard days, she says.

“The nitrogen shots that you receive after chemo ache every joint in your body. It’s agonizing,” she says. “I don’t think I know what arthritis feels like, but I hear that it’s similar to undergoing chemo.”  

Hair began falling out 21 days after she received her first treatment.

“I didn’t notice until my daughter pointed out a bald patch,” says Anderson. “I had just been walking around the grocery store and didn’t even notice.”

And after family friend and barber Tavarian Lawrence cut off all of her hair, she looked the part of a soldier and the world then knew that she was battling for her life.

Her church family at Victory Baptist knew she didn’t normally wear wigs, she says, and they along with her pastor, Robert Daniels, and the women’s ministry group rallied around her. They visited with her and offered rides to the doctor’s office.

“I really appreciated having them there to talk to me,” says Anderson of her church. “And my good friend, Felicia McKinley, she would often make trips from Atlanta just to spend time with me during my struggle.”

Her family struggled and did all they could to aid their ailing matriarch, says Anderson.

Her youngest son, Eddie or E.J., didn’t tell the teacher at school what his family was enduring or explain why he had begun to doze off in classes. Oldest son Dominique overcame his anxiety regarding hospitals, and visited his sickly mother. Daughter Christie didn’t say much, but Anderson says she learned that her daughter had been researching cancer treatments online.

Parents Clarence and Sarah Burgman offered unwavering support, as did her sister, Carla Meade.

But one of her dearest allies was battling in another theater of war.

Husband Walter Anderson Jr. was incarcerated throughout the whole ordeal.

“He had to deal with it the hard way because he’s not home,” she says. “It’s hard for both of us, because when you go through something like this. You have your family, but it’s not your whole family. I had to wait on the collect calls to hear from him. And mentally, I know it weighed on him.”

As the days of summer tempered and faded into fall, Anderson recalled the day when her IV catheter was removed as her happiest day throughout her whole ordeal.

These days, she says she feels good.

“The chemo has had a big effect on my body these days because I’m rebuilding my potassium levels and blood health,” she says. “I can’t be out in the sun while I’m taking the anastrozole.”

Despite the effects of her medication, she still bikes and exercises in her free time. She and Team Bon Bon have been awarded with Relay for Life’s Survivor’s Choice Award two years straight, and she says she wants the team’s efforts immortalized by her family.

“When I pass away, I want my family to continue on with the efforts of Team Bon Bon.”

She’s still heavily involved in her church these days, entrenching herself in groups and outreach programs ranging from women’s ministry to public relations for the Baptist church.

On Oct. 18, Lavonda and Victory Grace Baptist Church will host a Breast Cancer Awareness event with special guest Ashley Braswell of the American Cancer Society.

The annual event kicks off at 6 p.m., Oct. 18, Victory Baptist Church. For more information, call (229) 245-7770.