For one patient, Race for the Cure offers hope in breast-cancer treatment

10/19/2013 3:09 PM

10/19/2013 10:46 PM

Terry-Ann Ramjus came home to Miami for a week this summer, on a break between semesters from optometry school in Puerto Rico, and got an ultrasound, a mammogram, a biopsy and an MRI on her right breast.

She delayed her return to school to await the results: infiltrating ductal carcinoma, stage three.

“I never went back,” she said.

Now living in Country Walk with her mother and sister, the 32-year-old Ramjus spends much of her time as a cancer patient. Getting chemo. Injecting herself in the stomach with drugs for the side effects. Harvesting her eggs.

But on Saturday, she wasn’t a patient. She was a survivor.

The word makes Ramjus think of the Destiny’s Child song.

Yet there it was, “survivor,” inscribed on her raspberry-pink T-shirt and cap identifying her at the 18th annual Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale Race for the Cure as one of the 1,000 or so participants afflicted with breast cancer.

Every one of them has a story.

Some 20,000 people ran or walked in the 5K in downtown Miami — for the first time with timed results — to raise funds for medical research. The event has raised $12 million over the past 17 years. Runners and walkers were decked out for the occasion with T-shirt slogans like “Rack Rescue,” “Keep Calm and Fight Like a Girl” and “Breast Man.”

Though her father died of lymphoma in 2005 and her aunt also suffered from breast cancer, Ramjus had never attended the race before. She was diagnosed on July 1, a little more than a year after she had first gone to the doctor to get her breast checked out. They found nothing other than fatty, dense tissue, she said.

‘Beside herself’

But then she was measured for a bra at a Victoria’s Secret store this year and learned she had gone up a cup size. She felt a lump grow harder and larger. She had her mother, a nurse, feel it.

“She was beside herself,” Ramjus said.

“You really think it’s going to be benign,” said her 35-year-old sister, Melissa.

The diagnosis blindsided her. Ramjus was a year into an optometry degree, after working for seven years as a middle-school social studies teacher to save up for graduate school. She would need chemotherapy — 11 more weeks to go — followed by surgery and radiation. Her doctor has suggested a double mastectomy, though Ramjus has yet to make a decision.

She missed her white-coat ceremony, a tradition for students in medical fields, because the chemo lowered her defenses, so she couldn’t travel. The weekend she planned to be receiving the coat, she cut off her falling hair and bought a couple of $40 wigs.

For a while, Ramjus struggled with her health-insurance company to cover her treatment. She recently found a way to get genetically tested, to learn if her mother or sister might also be at risk for the disease. She’s still waiting for the results.

She has followed some alternative treatments, including seeping guanábana (soursop) leaves to brew teas, and kept up with yoga and Pilates classes at an L.A. Fitness gym. She has depended on her Christ Fellowship Church in Palmetto Bay and on workshops and support groups for cancer patients to keep her upbeat.

TO FINISH LINE

On Saturday, Ramjus, who had a chemo treatment a few days ago, just planned to walk a mile. But she ultimately made it through the entire 5K, joking that she would need a foot massage afterward.

She awoke at 4:20 a.m. after hitting the snooze button, put on pink eye shadow and drove downtown with her sister and a neighbor.

They met up with a friend and visited certain booths at the race: the one for Ramjus’ support group and for the D’Limers, a group of Caribbean professionals and businesses that held a rousing, Carnival-style party in a corner of Bayfront Park. (Ramjus was born in Jamaica.)

At one point, she and her fellow survivors were each handed a single rose. They walked in a procession to a stage for an emotional pep rally. Ramjus sang along to Sara Bareilles’ Brave. A few moments later, she wiped tears from her eyes.

Then she made it through the sea of pink fishnet tights, pink tutu skirts and pink sequined bras to the start line of the race. She noticed the slow, rosy sunrise reflected on glittering high-rises.

“It’s almost like pink on those buildings, too,” she said.

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