Breast cancer survivor reaches out to community

Breast cancer survivor Gloria Minus, left, talks with the Rev. Regina L. Bell at the First Pilgrim Baptist Church in Camden. Ms. Minus will speak to several groups about her journey this month, including First Pilgrim on Oct. 21. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

FELTON — Things such as keeping her home super clean used to dominate the thought process of Felton’s Gloria Minus. Everything had to be in its proper order.

However, those kinds of priorities all changed 14 years ago after Ms. Minus was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Suddenly, those kinds of things didn’t seem quite so important as she found herself laser-focused on survival, not just for herself, but for her children.

Along the way in her fight against the disease she also discovered that she had the ability to connect with other individuals who have been affected by breast cancer.

“I’m grateful that God has blessed me to be able to be a survivor for these 14 years and I really enjoy helping those who are newly diagnosed,” Ms. Minus said. “I’m a breast cancer mentor with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and I volunteer with them.

“When I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer it did change my life. I’d always been a fanatic when it came to things like keeping my house clean.”

She added, “Well, I still keep my house clean, but there were also certain things that I always had to make sure that were done … I’ve found that life is much more precious now and I just look at life differently. It’s too precious now to worry about every little thing.”

Not when there are much bigger things to be accomplished.

Today marks the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a very important time for Ms. Minus to reflect on her survival, helping others and, sadly, remembering the loss of her daughter, Renee Ashe, who succumbed to breast cancer two years ago shortly after turning 50 years old.

Ms. Minus won’t be very difficult to spot this month as she will be dressed in pink in recognition of breast cancer awareness every day in October. She wants people to know about the journey of which she has been a part.

“Every year there’s more and more breast cancer activities where they’re asking survivors to come out and (talk about) their journey,” she said. “I speak to all women who are newly diagnosed, but I’m primarily interested in women of color.

“For some reason with women of color, they’re usually in the third or fourth stage before detection because we seem to be busier with taking care of everyone else and we’re neglecting our own health issues. It needs to be diagnosed earlier.”

On Saturday, Ms. Minus will be speaking as a breast cancer survivor at the Woodside United Methodist Church at 1407 Main St. in Woodside. The church will be having a tea hosted by the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.

She will also be discussing her journey during church service Oct. 21 at the First Pilgrim Baptist Church, 27 S. Caesar Rodney Ave. in Camden on Oct. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

There will be other speaking engagements for Ms. Minus this month, though she hasn’t finalized all of her plans yet.

Regina Bell, reverend of First Pilgrim Baptist Church, said Ms. Minus has served as an inspiration for not only members of her church, but also for the community and throughout the state.

“She has always — since I’ve been a member and even a pastor here — set a focus on breast cancer awareness and mentoring,” the Rev. Bell said. “Even today, we have people in our congregation who are taking the same journey.

“So, absolutely, she has been the go-to person, along with some other survivors that we have in our ministry. Just recently we’ve begun to look at a focused compassionate care ministry for all types of cancer and she has volunteered to serve in that ministry as well.”

Breast cancer survivor Gloria Minus, of Felton, mentors with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. Her cancer was first detected in 2004. “The key is to get it diagnosed early,” she said. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ms. Minus said she doesn’t take her journey lightly.

After all, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 780 new cases for female breast cancer in Delaware in 2018 and also foresees 140 women in the First State dying from breast cancer this year.

Overall, the ACS estimates there will be 41,400 deaths across the country from breast cancer in 2018 (480 men and 40,920 women).

“A lot of people have been touched by breast cancer in their journeys,” Ms. Minus said. “The key is to get it diagnosed early.”

A surprise diagnosis

Her breast cancer was detected — Stage 1 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — back in 2004.

Ms. Minus said her cancer was discovered when she was serving as a test subject for the first breast cancer MRI at Christiana Hospital.

She underwent the MRI tests for four years and the last time she did it she received a call that said they saw something in the right breast in two places and she had to have a biopsy — one was benign and the other was Stage I DCIS.

Suddenly, Ms. Minus found herself undergoing 33 rounds of radiation treatments, plus a pair of lumpectomies and a regiment of tamoxifen, a drug prescribed to prevent breast cancer.

One thing she didn’t let happen to her was the opportunity to feel sorry for herself.

“God gave me the strength to drive myself to work (in Wilmington) every day and to my treatments,” Ms. Minus said. “I never questioned God about, ‘Why me?’

“I’ve talked to several Christian women that have questioned God, but no … It’s a journey that He took me through in order to help other women is the way I look at it and He was there every day.”

Family of fighters

Ms. Minus recently found out that even in her own family, she was not alone in her fight against life-threatening illness.

Her daughter, Mrs. Ashe, discovered that she had Stage 2 breast cancer in 2015 at the age of 49.

Meanwhile, Keenan Massey, the youngest of her two sons, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia that same year and her eldest son, Jonathan Massey, had battled testicular cancer when he was younger.

Gloria Minus, second from right, gathers with her children to celebrate the wedding of her son Jonathan Massey, left. Ms. Minus’ daughter Renee Ashe, second from left, and other son Keenan Massey, right, joined the celebration. Ms. Ashe died of breast cancer in 2016 at the age of 50. (Submitted photo)

Mrs. Ashe was discovered to be a 100 percent donor match for a bone marrow procedure for her brother but was unable to undergo the surgery due to her cancer diagnosis.

“We were going through all of this testing when we found out (Renee) had Stage 2 (breast cancer),” Ms. Minus said. “I always tell women (Renee) would keep her (cell) phone in her (bra) and I really think that was a great contributing factor in her being diagnosed.

“She went through the chemo and the radiation fine, but her blood pressure would always stay high and she would be in and out of the hospital after she went through all of her treatments.”

Ms. Minus said her daughter died suddenly after taking a trip to Florida in 2016 to visit her son.

“She texted me and said they got home at around 2 o’clock that morning and by sometime that afternoon she was dead,” she said. “She had just turned 50. We had a 50th birthday party for her and two months later she died.

“As for my son, he is in remission from leukemia. Overall, he’s doing great.”

It is those close, personal family experiences that the Rev. Bell said translates the loudest when Ms. Minus communicates with other cancer patients.

“She’s one of our deacons here (at First Pilgrim Baptist Church) so she serves the organization, not just locally, but our community,” said the Rev. Bell. “That’s a good thing that I know that God is very proud to know that she is serving his people.

“She helps people figure out how to cope with their changes, not just personally, but the family. I think that’s the other part, to be able to share with their family because everybody in the family is affected in some way. She has a great gift and I’m sure God is very proud of her for using it.”

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