Marcia Miranda is a cancer survivor who absolutely refuses to live life as a victim. Apart from leading an active and productive life as a performer, this articulate, informed vivacious woman spends much of her time encouraging and supporting those who have found themselves in a similar position, but lack her strength, vitality and courage.
It all began in July 2004 when this busy lady felt soreness in her left breast. She put it down to ovulation or irritation from a bone bra that she was wearing to perform. She ignored it. Then, when her breast felt heavy, she attributed it to weight gain. Finally, intuition, (“or was it divine intervention?”) propelled her to do a self breast examination in the shower one Friday evening. I discovered a lump, and I knew it was not good, that it could be cancerous. I told myself ‘This is it!!.‘ “I wasn’t aware at the time that a lump could be benign or malignant,” she said. On August 1, Miranda was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer by Dr. Keiron Fung-Kee-Fung.
There are four stages of cancer, the worst stage being stage 4, in which the cancer moves from one organ into another/other organs. Stage 3 means that the cancer has invaded the lymph nodes, which serves as the conduit by which it could enter another organ.
Marcia said her first reaction on hearing the diagnosis was one of anger at herself. “I felt I was living in an age where so much information was out there, readily available to me, and I had no excuse for ignoring the signs. I felt I could have detected it earlier, that I could and should have been doing my mammograms- because there was information about when all women should begin doing their mammograms. And I was so angry at myself for living my life in this cocoon, for feeling that nothing like this could ever happen,” she recalled.
Marcia also said that at that moment of her diagnosis, she also turned to God, asking for His guidance and protection. “And my journey through this disease has run parallel with my higher spiritual pilgrimage,” she said. But apart from faith in God, Marcia stressed that the other essential “tools” in her battle with cancer was information, support from her partner, her family and friends, determination and trust. Marcia who had all her treatment in Trinidad, said she was also “blessed” with a talented team of caregivers. Her treatment involved surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
One of the toughest decisions Marcia had to make was choosing between a lumpectomy (removal of the lump) and a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). “That (the choice) gave me a headache,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose my breast. But if I had to, I would have (the mastectomy), because obviously life comes before vanity,” she continued.
After doing a lot of research on Stage 3 cancer, she told her doctor, “I would like to have a lumpectomy.” Before I went into the theatre, I also told him, “Imagine that I am your mother, your wife or your daughter on the operating table and whatever you see as necessary, you should do it as I have complete trust in you.” The lumpectomy was followed by a very aggressive course of chemotherapy. Marcia was given 6 cycles of chemotherapy.
Each cycle which lasts about three weeks involves the administering of a cocktail of drugs over a five hour period. These drugs however are so powerful that they take effect over the next two to three weeks, destroying the cancer cells and taking a tremendous toll on the entire body in the process.
Fourteen days into her first cycle, Marcia lost all her hair- and that included her eyebrows, and eyelashes. She also felt very sick. But she was fortunate to have been well prepared for this difficult phase by a girlfriend who had been diagnosed with cancer some months earlier. “She was a great support and an educator. Everything I was to go through she had gone through so I was aware of everything and this made it easier. It didn’t matter what I looked like (after losing my hair) because I knew that this period would come to an end. I went out and bought myself a pretty wig,” she said.
Three years later, Marcia said her body is still “a little weak” and her white blood count low. “But hey, I am alive.” She said. She joined the Cancer Support Group under Veronica Roach and became a volunteer with the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society.
“I didn’t think that I had a purpose in life prior to my disease and I think, no I know, that I have found my purpose - (that is) to inspire women and to share my gifts of courage and determination in surviving trauma and surviving this disease.
Now I am so excited about embracing the best that life can be for me,” she related. Marcia said one of the best lessons she has learnt is to “tune in to my body”. “I don’t make joke with that. I am very aware of when something is not right and I don’t ignore it. I stay informed about the disease and anything relating to it,” she continued. Marcia is still busy performing. “ I had such a hectic Christmas that my vocal chords were inflamed,” she said. During the year she sings at restaurants, casinos, parties and corporate functions. Later this year she hopes to record a CD. She is also on the phone everyday speaking with women who have been recently diagnosed with cancer. “ This is my calling, my purpose and it is extremely fulfilling for me.” She told this writer.
But in speaking with women, she tells them that they need to stay informed and in tune with their bodies. “Fear is not a factor. Before just like me, you suspect something is wrong and you hope that it would somehow go away. It won’t. You have to get up and deal with it. And of course you have to pray.”
Marcia is very conscientious about her follow-up tests and is currently in the middle of having a battery of tests, bone scan, ultra sound, mammogram and blood tests- done, “ because as she says “If it does come back, you want to catch it as quickly as possible.” Reflecting on the life-altering experience of having cancer, Marcia says philosophically: “I am in good spirits. It has been a blessing, regardless of whatever happens. And if this disease should take me, so be it. At least I know I did everything possible and more.”