Sept. 11 will always be etched in Gloria Buie’s mind.
The date not only marks the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers but, for Buie, a personal day of infamy: she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Buie recalls going to her doctor for her usual yearly checkup.
“It was found on a mammogram when I went to Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in September 2009. It came back as abnormal, and they wanted to do a biopsy,” said Buie, in calm, measured tones. “The actual diagnosis came on 9/11. It was diagnosed as stage 2.”
The findings were a shock to her system. She’d taken part in races for the cure to benefit breast cancer research and treatment, never dreaming she’d be affected by the disease.
“I’d been an advocate for the Susan G. Komen Foundation even before I was diagnosed,” she said.
Buie, who taught group fitness classes for years and is now a yoga instructor, is fit, strong and limber. The fact she has four adult children belies her youthful appearance, and most people never guess Buie has dealt with cancer. Her pink sweater, adorned with a dark pink Komen pin, is the only evidence she had the illness.
Snuggling into an Adirondack chair in her backyard in Sylacauga, Buie radiates happiness while surveying the deep fuchsia and white petunias in a nearby pot, and talks about the pear tree that is heavy with fruit. Buie has a ready smile and an easy laugh.
But cancer is not a laughing matter, and her expression shifts.
“I did my consultation with the oncologist, and he said, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you. You’re the epitome of health,’” she recalled.
Buie is grateful that her cancer was found through a mammogram.
“It showed up on the scan, thank God,” she said. “I instantly felt fear. You think cancer and, oh my God, I’m gonna die. But my faith is so strong – I knew I had a protector.”
This wasn’t Buie’s first rodeo with the disease: her eldest daughter had early-stage ovarian cancer, and she is well now. Her youngest daughter had a scare during pregnancy, but it turned out fine.
Buie, executive assistant in Governmental and Corporate Affairs at Alabama Power in Birmingham, immediately started planning how to handle her treatments and scheduling visits.
“I wanted to do what I needed to do and to get on with my life,” she said. Buie had a lumpectomy, then underwent radiation. When it came time for chemotherapy, she was unable to take the treatment until she had healed from the radiation and surgery.
“You get your mind prepared,” said Buie, who is methodical in planning. “My heart sunk, and I was angry. I was ready to get it over with.”
Choosing not to “waddle in despair,” she instead pored over the internet for articles about the pros and cons of the myriad options for breast cancer treatments. She eventually knew what to expect.
“At the end of this process, I told myself I’m going to be better, I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be healed.
“It was God’s intervention. The chemo was ruthless,” said Buie, who took eight rounds, the equivalent of five months of treatment. She took one drug once a week for the rest of the year. Afterward, she took a maintenance medicine, Femara, in an oral pill, for five years.
The women in her family later underwent testing for the BRCA gene, which indicates that a woman has a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Fortunately, the test results were negative.
Throughout it all, Buie never lost faith that she’d make it through. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the disease, she noted.
“Everyone’s journey is different,” she said. “The ladies I’ve known that have gone through it, we’re all individuals. My whole goal was to get through the process. You’ve gotta listen to your body, listen to your doctors.”
Coming out on the other side
Last year, Buie gave a talk about her experiences during a breast cancer research fundraiser at the Harbert Center in Birmingham. Afterward, a young woman in the audience, in treatment at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, came to Buie for advice. Buie was kind, but brutally honest.
“In order to survive this, you’ve got to go through this process. Do what you need to do,” Buie advised. “And know, deep down, that you’re gonna get better. That is what you must tell yourself.”
Now, whenever a woman asks Buie about what to do, she gives the same talk.
“Dig deep,” Buie said. “It’s about coming through this disease and winning. I know God wants me to have an abundant life. Just get through the process.”
Buie is thankful to her family and many female friends who supported her during her illness. To help others, she wants to have a voice and to be an advocate for people with breast cancer. Buie volunteers with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama, finding donations to help with research. Her cars sport pink specialty license tags that support the Joy to Life Foundation. For every pink tag, which can be personalized, $50 goes to fight breast cancer.
“If one woman sees the tag, it’s worth every bit of it,” Buie said. “My whole reason is to remind women to take care of your body, be in tune with how you’re feeling. Whatever I can do to raise awareness, I will do, whether it’s public speaking or buying a car tag. Anything to raise awareness, I’m all about it.”
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)