My Story: ‘As Long as my Family Is With Me, I Will Always Have Support’
Sophia K-Franklin, 51, from St. Albans, New York, is an LBBC Community Connector. This program provides the tools and training to help volunteers use their personal breast cancer experience to make a difference in their communities.
In October 1998, while I was 7 months pregnant, I felt a lump in my right breast. When I arrived at work the next day, I shared my discovery with my dear friend Bette, who later became my daughter’s godmother. We went in the ladies’ room and I disrobed. She felt it and said, “It’s hard but don’t worry. When you go for your prenatal care appointment, let the doctor know so he can check it out.”
I shared my discovery with my doctor. She too said, “Not to worry, it’s probably your milk ducts getting ready to produce milk so you can breastfeed.” Still, she scheduled an appointment for me with a surgeon.
I went back to work eager to tell Bette what had happened. She was waiting for me with a prayer and my favorite hot chocolate to drink. She said we would get through this together.
My appointment with the surgeon was in November. He stuck a long needle into my lump and extracted fluid. He told me to go have my baby and that he would see me after the baby was born, in about 4 weeks.
My beautiful baby girl, Lena Monay Franklin, was born December 22, 1998. We came home on Christmas Eve. I wrapped her in a pink blanket and put her under the Christmas tree. She was the best Christmas present my family had ever received, especially for my husband Tommy (now deceased) who had his little princess.
Lena was here but I still had the lump in my breast. The surgeon had scheduled me to have a mammogram. I had never had one before, since I was just 33. Everything I read stated I didn’t need one until I was 40.
I was on maternity leave, thinking I would enjoy it with Lena, but that changed. I hired a neighbor to babysit Lena while Tommy took me to my mammogram appointment.
I didn’t share any information with my family and friends until I had something to tell them, and boy, did I. On January 8, 1999, while sitting in my doctor’s office with Lena in my arms and Tommy by my side, I heard, “You have carcinoma of the right breast.” I said, “What is that? I just had a baby. I want to live.”
Once we got home and I put Lena in her bassinet, Tommy began to cry. He blamed himself, saying that because he smoked cigarettes around me I got cancer. It didn’t help that his mother had cervical cancer and his sister had breast cancer. I told him, “No, it was just my time.”
Next I called my family and shared the information with them. I have five sisters and three brothers. It wasn’t easy telling my sisters. My younger sister Sabrina understood the most. She didn’t ask me a lot of questions. She just said, “What do you need me to do?” She took off a week from her job and came and stayed with me to help with Lena. Bette came to visit me and took Lena to her house on the weekends so I could get some rest once I started chemotherapy.
I returned to work for a month and then took time off in February 1999 to have a biopsy and lumpectomy. In April 1999, to have more surgery, I left work as part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives certain employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave. But because I had saved my paid time off, I was able to keep getting paid while I was out. I had my mastectomy on a Wednesday and was home by Friday. It was Good Friday to be exact. I returned to work in May and kept working while getting chemotherapy.
I walked in all the breast cancer walks in Manhattan. Bette was the CEO of my walk team, which she named “Sophia’s Our Choice.” My colleagues, friends and family joined the team, too. Lena took her first steps at a breast cancer walk. Some of my family and friends told me I helped them understand what breast cancer was really about and how chemotherapy affects your body. I told them that they helped me get through it.
Eighteen years later I am still thriving and “living beyond breast cancer.” As long as my family is with me, I will always have support.