Frances Blevins, 69, is a mother, a widow and a retired office manager of a law firm.
She is also a breast cancer survivor whose right breast was removed as a result of the disease.
Blevins, of New Port Richey, was diagnosed in 2005. Since then, the Washington, D.C., native has participated in charity walks for breast cancer and volunteered at the thrift store at Gulfside Regional Hospice.
Blevins said one of the myths about breast cancer that she tries to dispel is that a diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.
Instead, she said, "you do live through it. It affects women at 30, 40, 50 and on up. You do survive. That's the biggest thing — not to have the fear that you're not going to survive."
As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close — it ends today — Blevins answered a few questions about her diagnosis, why awareness is important and her refusal to allow the disease to sideline her.
Do you have a family history of breast cancer?
(When I was) a young teen, my father had a sister who had breast cancer. She had a breast removed. My sister had it when she was 43. She had a mastectomy. Thirteen years later, one breast cell lived on and metastasized. She died when she was 56.
How did you get diagnosed?
I had an abnormal mammogram. They said I had a simple cyst. It was nothing, they said. Then I discovered a lump in my breast a year and three months after the cyst. I knew it was cancer. A doctor said it was, too.
What was your reaction to the diagnosis?
I was frozen. The thing that bothered me most was that my family had been through a lot of deaths. My sister died in 1987, my brother died of heart disease eight months later and my husband died in 1994. My reaction was, "Oh, God, my poor daughter and my two nieces." It would be terrible for them to have to go through this if something happened to me.
How many surgeries have you had?
I've had two. One was to remove my breast and one to reconstruct it. They put a saline implant in there.
What was it like, having your breast removed?
It felt so good that the cancer was gone. They told me the cancer wasn't anywhere else. It made me happy. I wasn't sorry to lose my breast.
Why is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month significant for people to recognize?
The importance is twofold. One is for self-exams and to have your mammogram. I try to be an example to other women who have to go through this. I am doing well, and I look good. The other is to be aware of other women who may be going through it.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.