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Sonya Black had never been ill a day in her life, aside from normal pregnancy sickness. “I’d never had a flu shot, never been in a hospital for anything,” Black said. She had noticed that she was tiring easily, but she had just chalked that up to weight gain and aging.
“Then I found a lump, and everything went fast-forward from there.”
After visiting the doctor’s office last August for what she thought was a swollen thyroid, Black was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two weeks later, she underwent a mastectomy at Onslow Oncology to remove a tumor that was 3 centimeters in size. Following the surgery, she began an intense regimen of chemotherapy, prep medicines and anti-nausea medication.
“It was horrible,” she said. “The first week, I couldn’t take it. Literally everything I tried to eat came up. … My eyes would water all the time. My hair fell out after the third week of chemo. I was a textbook case.” When her doctors determined that the chemotherapy was doing more harm than good, they decided to move to the next step: radiation.
Skin blistering is a common side effect of radiation treatment – the high doses of radiation used to kill cancer cells can also damage healthy cells in the treatment area. To cope, Black created her own relief salve, drawing on her experience as a hobbyist soap maker and the research she has done into natural remedies.
“They gave me some creams to help with the burning, but I couldn’t pronounce half of the ingredients, so I decided to make my own. The doctors said I did really well with it,” Black said. After that, “I started using herbs to brew teas to keep my energy going, and I got into juicing vegetables.”
Black finished her radiation treatments on May 15 and is now preparing to have major reconstructive plastic surgery. Doctors say the cancer is completely gone, but still advise her to remain cautious, since there is a 1 percent chance that it could return.
Today, Black is pursuing her passion for homemade soap and lotions. She hopes to use her home-based small business, Luxuriously Natural Soaps, as a catalyst to educate people about living healthy lives using natural remedies.
She also joined Ribbons for Hope, a support group that was started at Onslow Memorial Hospital last summer by cancer survivor Betty Brittain and Dr. Randy Blackburn, Onslow’s Director of Radiation Oncology. The group is for men and women with all types of cancer, plus their families, friends and caregivers.
Ribbons for Hope meets at OMH on the third Thursday of each month to discuss topics including early detection of cancer, what to expect from chemo and radiation treatments, preparing for reconstructive surgery, and more. “It helps prepare the patient mentally and physically for cancer,” Black said, adding that her spouse and children attend meetings with her.
“I am truly blessed, because I’ve had people with me the whole time,” she said. “This is a chance to be there for someone else and create more awareness out there. I’m excited.”