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March 30, 2024 23 mins
Living with breast cancer is an emotional, physical, and mental rollercoaster. One woman who knows that personally is Jacquie Bishop, a Boston resident who is fighting it for a second time. She's choosing to share her story of strength and vulnerability in hopes of removing the stigma from the mental and physical health struggles that come along with a diagnosis. She's also hoping to encourage people in the Black community to develop more proactive habits to take care of their breast health. Jacquie and Nichole discuss her diagnosis, treatment, and much more in this interview.
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Episode Transcript

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From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each week
we come together, we talk aboutall the topics important to you and the
place where you live. It's sogood to be back with you on the
show again this week. As always, I'm Nicole Davis. So, if
you're a woman listening to the showright now, picture yourself and seven other
women and you're either standing or you'resitting in a circle, and you're all

looking at each other. One ofthe women in that circle, statistically here
in the United States, will comedown with breast cancer. This, by
the way, of course, canimpact men and non binary people as well,
but breast cancer is the most commoncancer among women here in the United
States. It is an emotional,mental, and physical roller coaster. And

one woman who knows that personally isJackie Bishop. Now. Jackie lives here
in the Boston area. She andI recently met and she was recently diagnosed
for the time with cancer, andso she's using her diagnosis and her treatment
to share her story of vulnerability,strength and support. She's encouraging people to
get screened and stay on top oftheir health. She wants to save lives.

She's also leading the conversation when itcomes to breast cancer in the black
community, talking about stigma and themental and physical health struggles that come along
with such a diagnosis. She's doingthis through a special blog. We'll talk
about that, but she's here nowto tell her story. So Jackie,
it is really good to have youhere. And as I just mentioned,
unfortunately, this is not your firstrodeo with cancer, so tell us a

bit about that. This is mysecond diagnosis. My first one was a
couple of years ago. Totally caughtme off guard. I had no familial
history of breast cancer as an AfricanAmerican person. You know, if they
said, oh, heart disease orlupus or MS or whatever, that would
not have been a surprise. Breastcancer is a total surprise. It was

very fortunate that I had an incredibleclinical team here in Boston and they caught
it early. I was able tohave a lumpectomy, which they also call
a misectomy. And I think thoughthat work can be very misleading because a
lot of people think of missectomy asa removal of the breast as opposed to

also just breast tissue. So thereis a really big difference there. And
how we perceive that and live thatexperience. Everything was going fine, you
know. I went through my treatment, the radiation treatment. It was during
COVID, so no one was allowedto go with me. I posted about
it on my Facebook page and reallyencouraged people to go get their kids squished.

That was how I ended every line. Get your kids squished, Yet
you have to That's a way toput it. But yeah, it works.
For two years, everything is fine. I'm on the medications, I
go in for my exams, nothing, nothing, nothing. And then in
January I had new health insurance.I was maybe a month late on my

mammoground, but it's a month.What are you thinking? Right? And
it was that moment where you goin and they say to you, go
back in the room, don't getdressed yet. And if I'll send somebody
in to either tell you to getdressed or I'll come in and take you
back to the room for more photos. Oh boy. So she came back

in and said we need more photos. Then she came back in a second
time and said, the doctor wantsto talk to you. And we know
that that's like going to the principal'soffice. This is not a good conversation
and I'm thinking, what, youknow, what the heck like, what's

going on? And so they foundanother they found some classification, and in
the moment, they weren't sure whatthat meant. They didn't know what it
was. And I do into theroller coaster starts. When you get a

diagnosis, it is being on ahamster wheel. You are going from doctor's
appointment to lab appointments, to Xray appointments to more doctor's appointments, and
they're all in very very quick succession. Exhausting. It is physically and mentally
exhausting. You're also trying to figureout how you're going to negotiate this with

your workplace and taking the time offnecessary to go do it. I am
very fortunate that I have an incrediblysupportive boss and organization. So he was
like, wow, sorry, dowhat you need to do. Don't worry
about the word. Yeah yeah,so as opposed to you know, others

who might say something different, Sothat part was fine. It is a
different form of cancer than the firsttime. I call it the octopus because
it has like a little head andthen it has these tentacles coming out,
and so the tentacles of sorts arereaching or at about twelve o'clock on the

breast tissue on the breast or inthe breast and is spreading out, So
that's not good, and it's movingtowards the neppo. It's stage one.
Caught it early. It does notappear to have spread very much. There

are other after the lumpectomy, inwhich they do a biopsy of just a
couple of little pieces, there areother classifications there, but again we don't
know if it's cancerous or if it'sjust stuff that's in one's breasts. For

since the time I was eight yearsold, they've been doing their own things.
So I was fortunate to have anincredible team at Beth Israel, and
I have the same team again.I'm dealing with the chair of the department,
who's a wonderful black man named TedJames, and his staff. His
MP has held my hand through notjust the first process, but the second

process. They're really proactive. Theycall to make sure I understand what the
last doctor's appointment meant, et cetera. But it's still very you know,
and I'm someone who's educated in thefield, right I have a master's in
public health. I've worked for doctorsmost of my adult life or in hospital
and clinic settings, and this isstill something beyond me. You could have

all the PhDs and everything in theworld, but when you get a diagnosis
like this, it snacks you inthe face, no matter how educated you
are, because you're still a humanat the end of the day, you
still are. Yeah, and I'msomeone who you know. I started out
in healthcare in the nineteen eighties doingHIV work, and it was at a

time when there weren't infrastructures at all, Like we were making it up as
we went along. And the storyI tell is that by the time I
was twenty five, I knew twohundred and fifty people who had died.
At the time I was twenty fiveyears old, oh, Jackie, I
knew two hundred and fifty people whohad died. So when it comes to
health and healthcare and stuff, there'snot much that freaks me out anymore.

Right. I've seen blood, I'veseen body fluids, I've seen people take
their last breath, etc. Andso there is a numbing moment. It's
that it's like that metaphor of theCharlie Brown characters when the adults are speaking
and it just sounds like right exactly, it's like cancer wah wah wah wah

wah, cancer whah woah, wlahwah wah. You don't hear anything else.
So this time around, the firsttime around, I did radiation treatment.
I did twenty one courses. Itwas pretty painless until like the last
week, and then your skin startspeeling and your breast are sore and tender.

And it's important, I think,to be explicit about the realities because
people need to know and they needto address their fears and concerns about You
could get through it. The beam, the radiation beam, you don't feel
at all. You'll just lie ona table and then they tell you to
get dressed. It's not until later, a day later, a couple of

days later, that you see theeffects of it. And as a dog
skin African American person, I saidthat at one point my breast looked like
chicken that have been left on ahot grow for three days. It was
just gnarly blackened. It was likethe worst sunburn you ever have. And
two years later, I'm mostly fine. There's still a little tenderness. They

tell me that can last another monthor could last another fifteen years. There
was just no way to know.But other than that, I had no
other issues until January of this year. So now radiation is not an option.
And because the cancer came back,because it came back so quickly,

because it came back while I wason hormone blocking drugs, the only option
for me is a misectomy and thenchemo and then something called targeted treatment,
which is an antibody infusion. Theymade the decision that I'm fifty nine years

old as a joke. I'm notin my twenties anymore. Not out in
these streets. You know, noneof us are trust And I was okay
with not having reconstruction, and infact, I've insisted on a double misset
to me, I do not havethe brockagen. But at the same time,

they can't explain to me why thishas happened and why it happened so
quickly, nor could they assure methat it would not jump to the left
breast where which is fine, Likeit was fine the first time, it's
fine, the second time, there'snothing there. And without the assurance that
it wouldn't jump to another breast,I'm like, I'm not willing to come

back here three years later, solet's just get rid of both of them.
I'm not having reconstruction surgery. Iwill have some plastic surgery where they're
basically just reshape the pectoral area,so I'm not so concave. And the
plus side of this is they're doingit via lipe a section. Okay,

the plastic surgeon said, well,you know, we'll take it from your
thigh, and I'm like, no, you want my thighs? Are fine?
Go a little higher up right aroundthe gun. We'll help us sister
out here. This is scary.We as females, the moment we start
growing brass, our relationship changes withthe world. It changes with our mothers,

who want to if we're so luckyto have a mother or a female
guardian take you for your first bra, and how that changes your world.
How if you grow breasts before yourgirlfriends or schoolmates grow breast it changes that
relationship. I played sports growing up. It changed my relationship with the boys
that I played with because you know, it was the seventies in Brooklyn,

so it was all about banging whenwe were doing basketball, and then it
was about banging and feeling me up. So it just changes everything when you
start to grow buss and then you'redating, and then all of this other
stuff, and then you're trying tohide them or not hide them and have
them out and you live your lifewith that like little quiet noise or minute

noise always in your head and tryingto find the right bra and not have
to pay eighty dollars for it orsuch a racket. Such a racket,
oh my godness, especially if you'reendowed with bigger, you know, bigger,
let's forget about it. You justwant to stay comfortable, but you
have to shell out all this moneyfor it. It's crazy. And I'm
you know, I'm a double toa triple D. So I am a

big girl and I have been fromthe like there was no training bra period.
It was like no breast boom.All of a sudden one morning you
wake up and you're like, whatis going on? I understand right there
with you. And so with allof that in the way that we live
our lives, with that sense ofawareness of our bodies along with all of

the other stuff with the female body, to be at this point and to
be in that chair a few weeksago, to have to make that decision.
It was an easy decision to makebecause of the healthcare factor. So
in just thinking about like the everydayritual of even showering, like moving one's

breasts around, and then thinking,oh, just a day that's coming really
quickly where that won't be a factoranymore, you developed that relationship, that
everyday relationship. How do you see? Yeah, like I wash my arms,
I lift my breast, wash undermy breast, and I wash over
my breast, and I wash aroundmy breast, and then I do the

same thing on the left side.Right, how do you watch my stomach?
Right? Right? How do youdevelop this new routine and this new
I mean, it's it's almost wroteright like you just you do it without
thinking. And probably that first weekor so when you get home after the
bandages are all taken off, that'sa whole new world for you. It
will be more than I mean,it will definitely be more than a week.

I really do think that it willbe a series of awareness. You
know that the physical is one partby enclosed now differently will be another.
I wanted to talk about this andto have this opportunity because there's just so
much that we don't know as manycommercials as we see, as many walks,

as there are, as many pinkribbons as there are. There's still
so much information that we don't know. We don't know that black women have
a lower incident of cancer than theirwhite counterparts, but a higher incident of
late stage diagnosis and a higher incidentof death. I'm kuser, and that's

regardless of education, money, accessto healthcare. Chemo and I will be
undergoing chemo, and I have tosay, of this entire process, chemo
is a piece that scares me themost. But the chemo today is not
the chemo of our parents or ourgrandparents'. General medicine has gotten better,
et cetera, but there are stillside effects that are horrible. I'm fortunate

that I was a black woman.I wear my hair shaved most of the
time, so losing my hair isnot an issue for me, but not
having a choice, like I've beengrowing my hair out during COVID. Just
last week, I decided I'd rathercut it than have it fall out,
so I cut my hair again.How will I perceive myself as a lesbian.

I'm very clear that I'm female,but I'm also very clear that there
are other people who are somewhere onthe body spectrum. This is not top
surgery for me. This is asect to me, and there is a
difference, a big difference, areally big difference. Would I have chosen
this, I don't know. Imean there were some years ago I thought,

oh, breast reduction would be great, you know, but I never
did it. I had the optionand I never did it. So I
just think that when we're talking aboutcancer, we need to really monitor our
conversation towards the audience that we wantto reach. And for me, I

want to reach women. I wantto reach Black women in particular. I
want to tell people stop being afraidof a machine and discomfort that last long
less than two minutes. It's threedepending on the tech fair and how much
they have to like adjust you andstuff, and how long you have to
sit there flailing with your arms outright, But it's worth they it's two
or three minutes of your time andyou will have a lifetime of information from

that trenut and peace of mind.Yes, not knowing, being afraid of
the unknown. And I think forthose of us who are black people,
there's too many of us that ifwe don't know then it's all right,
right, and that's just not true. No. So I hope that in
my journey and in the places thatI'm being public, that people will learn

something and that they will address theirissues and concerns and go get the tit
squished, and even the self athome too. I mean, you don't
have to go get it. Mammogramsare super important, and everybody who's in
their late thirties early forties at thispoint, if you're getting to that point,
or even if you find something thatdoesn't seem quite right, it's important

to check yourself at home as well. And I think that we get so
caught up in our day we don'tthink about that, so that's critical as
well. It really is, youknow. But this is one of those
things that we were talking about beforein terms of knowledge, what are we
feeling when we're doing home breast examples, because everybody has lumpy breast. You
don't know. There are things thatare hard, there are things that are

soft. What am I feeling for? And it's fine if you know the
physical motion, do a circular startingat the areola and work your way out,
But what am I actually feeling?And what am I what should I
be feeling and what shouldn't I feel? And I think all the cards that
you can hang in your little showerand that gives you, that tells you
how to do it, it doesn'ttell you what it is. And I

think there's still a piece in ourhealth education models that isn't working and as
a result, people don't do it. And so yes, you should self
monitor and if you feel something differenttoday than you did two months ago,
then go to your doctors. Butat the same time, when you do
go to your doctor, ask themto help you learn what you are feeling

and seeing you know what you're feeling. Mostly if you're seeing it, it's
very late stage. And that's awhole other conversation. Yeah, you should
have been at the doctor a whileago for that. But even if you
don't know exactly what it is you'refeeling, it's best to know. But
even if something just feels off,Say you're in the shower right and you're
just washing and all of a suddenyou feel something that's like, wait a
minute, that wasn't there like aweek ago. What is that? It

could be even as simple as that. We don't all have to be you
know, medical doctors. It's justknowing your body and having better relationships with
our bodies exactly. And I thinkI'd rather be a little neurotic about that
than to find out that I havea late stage cancer that could have been
avoided or dealt with very very differently, with choices that than not having choices.

So you've been working really hard toreach out to your community, telling
you know, especially black women andpeople of color who might not identify as
a woman but still have press,you know. Tell me how you're doing
that. Tell me about the blogentries you're writing. How are you trying
to reach out? So I starteda couple of years ago when I first
got my diagnosis, just on myFacebook page, and I did a little

survey and we came up with thename tick Bits. I still love that.
You weren't ready for that, butit's cute. I like it,
and I would do entries and itwas similar to any of the column writing
that I used to do, likea jillion years ago, et cetera,
where there's definitely a sense of humorto it. There's the matter of factness

of what I was going through atany given time, like after radiation appointments,
I would go to Clearflower and Brooklineand drop forty dollars like three times
a week. I was going tosession five times a week, no judgment.
At some point I did realize thatwas not sustainable, but that was
my self care and self love.I'm letting folks know what the physicality of

it is. I'm letting people knowwhen I go to doctor's appointment, what's
entailed with that. Like I justhad a pet scam and what did it
mean do and what did I findout from that? And I had to
advocate for the pet scan versus anotherMRI. What I'm trying to do is
give people information and encourage them tobe their own caretakers and their own advocates

in the health and well being oftheir selves, regardless of their gender expressions.
As you noted, it's important andit's imperative. And in Massachusetts,
ninety eight percent of people have healthinsurance, so there's no reason to not
go do this. And even ifyou have public health insurance there, you

can still get incredible care in thisstate, in particular in this city,
there's the mobile van, there's etcetera. So I give people resources in
my online blogs as well. Andcontact information for organizations, for support groups,
et cetera. And then I encouragethem to support a friend of mine

whose daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies. That's the most important part, obviously,
so I try to make it asaccessible as possible. I don't use
a lot of big words, althoughthis is Boston and you know the joke
is your your waiter has a PhDin hotel management. I want people to
walk away with information. I wantthem to walk away with a smile and

to not feel sorry for me,but to feel like, damn, you
just tell me something or shared something, and that the community of people who
are reading this, they're sharing informationas well. They're telling their stories or
their friends or their parents' stories.That we're all learning together. Because cancer

will touch every single female best cancerwill touch every single female or person with
bruss who regardless whether you get diagnosedor somebody you know to diagnosed. But
it's a reality of our life,unfortunately, and the more we know,
the more we can be available andpresent to address it. So well,

Jackie, thank you for all you'vedone to help people learn, to help
educate people, but also just encouragepeople to get a better relationship with themselves
and their bodies, and all thebest to you as you enter this new
stage of your life. Thank youvery much for this opportunity and greatly appreciate
it. Have a safe and healthyweekend. Happy Easter to you, by
the way, Join me again nextweek for another edition of the show.

I'm Nicole Davis from WBZ News Radioon iHeartRadio.
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