Spirit Girl Offers Advice on Dealing with Family History of Breast Cancer
Laundin Lang is what some might call an “all-American girl.” She’s a good student and athlete, involved at her church and in the community, and she rarely, if ever, gets into trouble. Her world went into a tailspin last October when her mother, Benita, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I told Laundin way later in the day, because she was busy with cheering. When I told her, she was really worked up. It was hard to say to her. She took it pretty hard, but she got ok. She was able to talk to a friend who had gone through a similar situation,” Benita said.
Benita was diagnosed after finding a lump in her right breast. She made an appointment with her doctor about a week later and had her first mammogram followed by an ultrasound and a biopsy over the next week. The American Cancer Society recommends that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 45; Benita was 42 when she found the lump doing a self-check.
“With breast cancer being so prevalent, it is important that women do everything they can to lower their risk factors and find the disease early. One of the best early detection methods, particularly for women between the ages of 18 and 42, is a monthly self-exam. This means checking your breasts once a month to look for lumps and other abnormalities. Many women have trouble remembering to do this; I recommend putting it on your calendar or setting a reminder on your phone just as you would with any other important appointment,” said Sophy Mangana, MD.
Although Benita admits that she wasn’t always diligent about monthly self-exams, Laundin says this has made her more aware of her health and lowering her risk factors for developing breast cancer. Shortly after her mother’s diagnosis, Laundin’s grandmother was also diagnosed.
“When my mom was diagnosed, I thought, ok, maybe scientifically my chances may be a little higher, but I just kind of overlooked it. Then when they diagnosed my grandmother, I thought ok, maybe my chances are even higher now. I wouldn’t like to say that I expect to get it, but I know my chances are higher, so I try to do what I can to avoid that. I guess I’m just more aware of it,” Laundin said.
Benita says that she immediately began discussing treatment options with her doctor and decided to have a bilateral mastectomy.
“It was only in my right breast, but I decided to just have a bilateral mastectomy. I’m young, and I felt like the bilateral mastectomy was the best choice for me. So that’s what we chose to do, and that happened on November 17, 2017. I am cancer-free. And I’ve been cancer-free for 10 months now. I didn’t have to do chemo or radiation. I just take my pills,” Benita explained.
The medication Benita still takes, Tamoxifen, is an estrogen modulator. The medication works by preventing estrogen from attaching to cancer cells. Because hormone receptor-positive breast cancers need estrogen and/or progesterone to grow, blocking those hormones can help treat or prevent breast cancer for some patients.
Though Benita is now cancer-free, the year was difficult for both Laundin and her younger brother, Lathan, who is 9. Both of them had to continue going to school, and Laundin has a very busy schedule on top of her coursework, which included cheerleading and the Spirit Girls program at Forrest General. The Spirit Girls program allowed Laundin to volunteer in the community, interact with other young ladies, and gain valuable knowledge on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
She says staying active helped to take her mind off of things, and she offers that advice to other teens who may be going through something similar. Laundin said, “Talk to someone. It can be really overwhelming, especially when you first find out. Find something to keep you occupied so that you’re not just thinking about it, because then it gets really heavy.”
“Laundin handled everything going on with so much grace. Young women today can have complicated lives whether there’s an illness or something else going on at home, and the Spirit Girls program can be a blessing for them. Being out in the community volunteering gives them an opportunity to experience the joy of helping someone else and take some time away from the things that are troubling them. It was especially heartwarming for me to see Laundin decorating the Cancer Center this year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I know it meant so much to her and the other girls,” said Tyra Willamor, Spirit Girl and Sweetea coordinator.
Benita also acknowledges that a strong support system and faith in God helped her through this journey. She is a member of West Point Baptist Church and says that her church-family prayed for her recovery faithfully. Benita also says her family, particularly her mother, sisters, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, and most of all, her husband helped her tremendously during her recovery. In fact, her mother and sister were even present to help Benita immediately after her diagnosis.
She said, “It was almost – when they said the words, it was like I kind of left my body for a minute. I was numb. I couldn’t hear. I did have my mom and my friend, who’s more like a sister, with me. We cried for a minute and just kind of reset. My husband, Tywan, was the backbone of my support system. He was extremely supportive of my decisions, through my recovery...through it all. He really did his part for all of us.”
For more information about the Spirit Girls program, visit forrestgeneral.com/spiritofwomen. To learn more about the risk factors for breast cancer, visit forrestgeneral.com/breastcancer.