“In the beginning, I was kind of shocked. I had just turned 50,” says Romanita Irish-Partington, a teacher in our Early Childhood Education Program.

“A week or two on my way to work, I had a callback after my routine mammogram and they asked me to go for a biopsy and I knew it wasn’t good. At first, I was going to do a lumpectomy and radiation. When they found the second spot, they couldn’t save the breast. I decided for a double mastectomy.”

Even though her doctor told her it would not be an easy recovery, nothing prepared Romanita for the multiple surgeries she would have to endure — five in total. The initial surgery — a double mastectomy and reconstruction using skin from her own abdomen — was an eight-hour procedure. “I was in the hospital for a whole week,” she says. “I told them I wasn’t going to leave until I was comfortable.”

The good news was that she did not need radiation or chemotherapy following surgery. Instead, she was prescribed Tamoxifen for five years. The bad news was that her recovery was slow and long.

“Thank God for my husband’s insurance,” she says. “He was my caregiver.” Her coworkers provided additional support. “Most of them would text me, send me prayers, check up on me, ask how I was feeling,” she says.

She was still nervous about coming back to work, six months after the first procedure. “It was kind of hard because I still wasn’t walking straight because I was so tight from the abdomen,” she says. “I had to beg the surgeon for some physical therapy. Even though the place didn’t take my insurance, it helped me regain mobility and strength.”

What does Romanita want people to know? “You should be vigilant about your mammograms because from the time I started, I would go every year like clockwork. I never had a callback,” she says. “Having a callback was kind of shocking. You could save your life. Because it saved mine. What if I had said, ‘Oh, because it’s Covid, I’m not going to go?’”