“I was 42 at the time and I went in for a routine mammogram, which I’d done for years, so when I was called back in to my doctor’s office to receive my results, I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” she said.
However, doctors had found a small lump and opted for a lumpectomy to remove and test the tissue.
During the 2002 Fourth of July weekend, Axam-Wilkins discovered the tissue was cancerous – and there was more of it.
Her doctor recommended a mastectomy, to which she quickly agreed.
“The emotions didn’t really set in until after the surgery because I didn’t have time to process what was going to happen, I just knew it was a decision I had to make,” Axam-Wilkins said.
Her surgeon removed the tumor and rebuilt her breast in the same operation.
“It was a relief to wake up and know I wasn’t disfigured,” she said.
A month after the surgery, Axam-Wilkins began a six-month round of chemotherapy treatment.
“The chemo made me lose my hair and I felt weak so it felt like I was having a sort of out-of-body experience,” she said.
Although Axam-Wilkins said she was reluctant at first to talk about her experience, she eventually found a metro Atlanta breast cancer survivor support group called Sisters by Choice.
Trudy Allen, facilitator of the group’s East Point meetings, said Axam-Wilkins is now the facilitator of her own group.
“She is a great person to talk to for information and understanding,” Allen said.
The organization’s main project is a mobile breast health unit for non-metro counties.
It will offer mammograms and other early detection resources to women who may not otherwise have access to them.
As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, Axam-Wilkins said she enjoys staying healthy by playing tennis, engaging in homemade crafts and helping others through the support group.
“My advice to others is stay true to yourself through an experience like cancer because you know what’s best for your well-being,” she said.
Axam-Wilkins said she values preventative care, even after being in remission and declared cancer-free.
“I still take medication to prevent the cancer from coming back and get a check-up every six months,” she said.