Optimism has been essential in the breast cancer journey of survivor Lelia Raines.
Months after being laid off from her job of 18 years, Raines, 52 at the time, received a diagnosis of breast cancer in April 2009. She said she was in a state of disbelief at first, but then thought, "Why not me?"
"You know a lot of people say, ‘Why me?’ I said, ‘Why not me?’ because I’m no different than all these other women," Raines said.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Raines had a double mastectomy, and then, over the next year, she went through the breast reconstruction process. She noted that being laid off was a blessing in disguise as she was able to stay at home through her treatments and surgeries.
To this day, Raines said, she can’t say what type of breast cancer she had. All she knows is that it was Stage 3.
"I choose to focus all on the positive. I did not research, and a lot of people think that’s crazy, you need to know everything. But I knew all I needed to know … that no matter what it was I was going to do my best to beat it," Raines said. "I have all the paperwork at home, but … I didn’t even know it was Stage 3 until probably after my surgery. I just choose not to involve myself with all of that."
Raines, who attends First Presbyterian Church of Covington, said her strong faith in God was her primary motivator.
"I felt that it was God’s plan for me. I kind of looked at it as a challenge that I was going to beat it and hopefully the way that I responded would be an inspiration maybe to other people that, you know, ‘Wow. She got through this really well, and I can do it too,’" Raines said. "Through prayer, faith and a whole lot of support from family, (you) can come through anything."
The Covington native said her husband, Dennis, and their daughters, Kingsley Allen and Mandi Roberts, have been supportive throughout her journey, along with her church family, and a whole lot of prayer.
"I just could not have gotten through without everybody’s love, support and prayers, and I know a lot of people don’t like to hear the religion side of it, but I truly believe prayer is what got me through many, many days that could have been way worse than what they were," she said.
Now a breast cancer survivor for more than four years, Raines said the diagnosis has definitely changed her perspective on life.
"The old cliché of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ really comes into play. I’m thankful, grateful for every single day that I have cancer-free. Of course, I am not stupid enough to think that it cannot come back, because I have had a lot of people who were going through it at the same time I was, that theirs has recurred. So I know that at any time it could," she said. "But I live each day to the very fullest, and I (say) appreciate everything and everybody around you, because none of us have a guarantee of tomorrow, or even later today."
Raines, who lives in Rockdale County, now works part-time as a merchandiser and spends her time watching her grandchildren during the day.
She said her advice to anyone battling breast cancer is to be very aware of her body and health, and not to put off checkups. She said most importantly, stay positive.
"You will have so many well-meaning people who want to talk to you about it and tell you a story of somebody they know who may not have had as positive an outcome," she said. "You have to filter and watch kind of who you associate with at that time, because you don’t need to hear the negative."
"I had somebody, who was a very well-meaning person, who knew somebody who had breast cancer that had recurred, and she was going through her third time of chemo/radiation and was not going to make it. She was a relatively young mother, but this lady felt she had to give me play-by-play every time I saw her of how terrible things were," Raines said. "You have to filter what you let come in, because you can’t let it get you down."
"The doctors and the research play a huge part, but your attitude, I would say, is about 90 percent of the battle. If you have a very positive attitude, you’re going to get way further than people who don’t."
This is the first of a weekly spotlight series during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every Sunday throughout October, a different member of the community affected by breast cancer will be featured in this space.