With bone aches and a low grade fever, Westray Corradine figured she was fighting the flu. But what bothered her most was feeling sleepy during the daytime. “I was taking afternoon naps, which I had never done,” she says.
At 36, she was teaching at the Miami school her 6- and 7-year-old daughters attend. The fatigue worried her enough that she went to see her family doctor, who ordered blood tests.
Westray also mentioned a cyst that had developed on her back. The doctor sent her to a dermatologist.
“They did a biopsy, but I didn’t think anything of it,” she says. “I was more concerned about the blood work and what that would show.”
When she returned to the dermatologist’s office for the biopsy results, he told her the back lump contained breast cancer cells. “Obviously, that was a shock. It was not something he expected, nor did I,” she says.
Finding Out More
Two years before that discovery, Westray—who is 4-foot-10-inches tall and weighed 74 pounds at diagnosis—received breast implants in a cosmetic procedure. She later noticed a lump in her right breast. Her gynecologist said the implant in that breast had become encapsulated, as scar tissue had formed.
After the biopsy results, her oncologist ordered a PET scan. The test showed a large tumor in her right breast, next to the implant. The breast was both encapsulated and had a tumor.
Westray was diagnosed with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer. It had spread to her bones, so was metastatic, or stage IV.
At first, she tried to learn more by looking up information online, but quickly gave that up.
“I was seeing the word ‘death’ too much and I just wouldn’t accept that,” she says.
What’s more, she mistrusted some of what she saw as out-of-date or wrong. So her husband did the research and they talked about what he found.
Others offered advice. “Everyone has something to say. People would throw articles at me,” says Westray. “You have to decide what to take in and what to put on the back burner.”
She gained support from a woman who had been through breast cancer treatment and shared Westray’s deep religious faith. Although they both live in Miami, they have never met. “We talk on the phone, text and connect on Facebook.”
Talking With Children
Westray’s husband travels frequently for business, but family and friends have helped with child care and more. Her father lives nearby, her mother comes from Atlanta and her mother-in-law visits for longer stays from Colombia, where both her family and her husband’s are from.
She met with a counselor at her daughters’ school, for guidance on discussing her diagnosis with her young daughters.
“I have been completely honest with my kids, at their level,” Westray says. “They ask the questions that kids ask, and number one is, ‘Are you going to die?’”
The counselor told her not to answer that question with a “no.”
“I say, ‘Nobody knows when they’re going to die. I’m doing everything in my power not to let that happen. You do what you can and let God take care of the rest,’” she says.
Westray’s ovaries were surgically removed, to lower estrogen in her body. She was put on chemotherapy, an aromatase inhibitor and a bisphosphonate medicine, to strengthen her bones. After two months, a PET scan showed no visible disease.
Treatment continued for seven months, followed by a double mastectomy. Her combination therapy began again afterward. The removed breast tissue showed microscopic tumors, so Westray will have six weeks of radiation.
She also changed her diet, stopped eating meat and switched to whole wheat products. “I’ve never been a good eater,” she explains.
Her husband invented a smoothie to help her. It uses a beet, carrots, broccoli florets, spinach, papaya, purple grapes, blueberries and (sometimes) kiwi. Those ingredients are added to orange juice and blended with an antioxidant powder and omega-3 oil mixture.
“I’ve been drinking a huge shake every day since my diagnosis,” Westray says, “because if you tell me to eat a vegetable on its own, I won’t do it.”
From the beginning, her commitment to therapy and lifestyle changes has been fueled by her love for her children. “I didn’t want them to not have a mother,” she says. “I have a very positive attitude.”
Watch an interview with Westray in a Mother's Day segment on a Miami TV station.
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This article was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number DP11-1111 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.