Breast cancer survivor encourages women to get mammograms on time

October 19, 2022
photo of a woman standing in a garden
Aleasa Barry was shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer because her family doesn't have a history of cancer. Photo by Kristin Lee

When Aleasa Barry’s doctor called her with the news that she had breast cancer, Barry felt sure that the doctor would call back the next day and say it was all a big mistake. It just didn’t seem real.

“I just did not think that I would have cancer. Why would I have cancer? Cancer doesn't run in my family. That was my thought,” she said.

It wasn’t a mistake. Barry had early-stage breast cancer, which had been caught by her regular screening mammogram. In retrospect, Barry said, she had felt pain in her breast, but she had attributed it to her bra.

“Every afternoon when I got home, I would just take the bra off and just walk around and be comfortable, which was something I didn't do before. But I started doing that because of the pain,” she said.

a woman stands in a hospital hallway and rings a bell attached to the wall  
Aleasa Barry rings the bell after her last radiation treatment at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. Photo provided

Barry is a stickler for getting her mammograms on time. Now, after her experience, she wants all women to be aware of when they should be getting mammograms. Doctors at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center recommend that women start getting yearly screening mammograms at age 40. Women with certain risk factors, like a strong family history of breast cancer, should talk to their doctors about starting screenings earlier.

“Me following that simple procedure to get my mammogram on a timely basis is what, I think, saved me,” she said. “And I was grateful to have that.”

Barry has undergone a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and follow-up radiation as a precautionary measure to kill off any potentially remaining circulating cancer cells. With her radiation course complete, she’s back to a cancer-free life.

But when she initially received the news, she didn’t know what to make of it. At first, she didn’t tell anyone while she absorbed the news. In truth, she said, her husband took the news worse than she did.

“He was the one who broke down. He said, ‘What will I do without you?’” she said. “I said, ‘You will go on like everyone else does who lives. Have you forgotten the Bible? I’m not breaking ground by dying. No matter what I do, it’s not going to change what I have.’”

a group of people stands surrounding a woman who is holding up a certificate 
Aleasa Barry is surrounded by supporters after completing radiation treatments. Photo provided

Of course, Barry couldn’t change the existence of her cancer, but the fact that she had a screening mammogram and that the cancer was caught relatively early meant that doctors had a better chance of treating it.

Barry decided early on that she was going to keep a positive attitude and do whatever was necessary to get well.

“Whatever it took, I was prepared to go through it. I was prepared to endure, but I wanted to live and thank God I am here, and I am living,” she said.

Her close circle of girlfriends, who she’s known since high school – “sisters of the heart” as she calls them – rallied around her. Everyone kept a positive outlook, she said.

“I didn't sit at home and feel like, ‘I'm going to get depressed; I'm going to cry.’ I didn't do any of that,” she said.

Barry was unsure what to expect when it came to getting a biopsy, surgery and radiation, which is why she wanted to share her story. She advises other patients to stay positive and to try to relax during procedures. Most of all, she encourages women to get their screening mammograms on time. She thinks that the younger women she knows through church and other activities aren’t as aware of the importance of mammograms as they should be.

“It’s not as scary knowing you have cancer as not knowing because you didn’t get screened,” she said.