Donice Mitchell – Life and Coping with Breast Cancer

When I take my hair off, my head looks like an egg, said Donice chuckling softly. She then lifted her wig and showed her completely baldhead, which was smooth and did resemble the top of a brown egg.

The tall, medium brown skinned women explained how after her first or second treatment of chemotherapy her hair just seemed to fall out in her hands, making it even more difficult to attempt to comb it. Thinning hair runs in her family, so she started wearing wigs years ago. It doesn’t bother her much not having hair, “I never had much hair anyway,” she admitted.

Losing hair was something that you had to prepare for according to her. She keeps her wigs brushed and curled, so we both laughed as she described some of the ratty, wild, and matted looking wigs she saw some of the women wearing while waiting for her chemotherapy.

Donice Glenda Evans was born the second eldest child to parents Violet and Isador Evans on February 23, 1955 in French Camp, CA. Her father was a preacher, so her family moved a lot when she was growing up, which to her meant constantly learning and adapting to new people and places. Her family settled in San Jose, CA in 1971, when her father became the pastor of the San Jose Ephesus Church.

Donice describes herself as shy, which may be because of the sheltered existence she had growing up. Her father was strict and held tightly to Christian values. She was not allowed to wear pants, at home or at the Seventh-day Adventist Christian schools she attended. Her dresses and skirts were required to be below her knees, she wore no jewelry, and was not allowed to go many places outside of church or school. She had never been one to rebel, so she kept her focus on school.

The rules she was subject to also caused her to be more cautious in all areas of life. Whenever her two brothers and two sisters would attempt to plan something mischievous she was always the voice of reason. They called her sister E.G. comparing her with a prophet of the Seventh-day Adventist church, Ellen G. White who has written numerous books on Christian etiquette, health, beliefs, etc.

Donice attended Oakwood College in Alabama for two years before deciding to finish her degree in communications at Loma Linda University. She was a junior in college when her father died from a massive heart attack. His death was traumatic for her family, especially her mother. Her family felt as if they had been outcast from the group of pastors and their families. Special events that they had become accustomed to attending, they were no longer invited to.

Although her father’s death saddened her deeply, she also felt a since of relief, because all the rules he had enforced for so many years were no longer in place. Though, now her faith in God is still strong, she tends to prefer a more relaxed approach to life and believes some things should be done in moderation.

What many would consider a late bloomer, she lived in her parent’s home until she was married. Donice met Donald Mitchell at the age of 25. The two dated for a while and both friends and family wondered if they would ever get married. After dating for five years the couple said their vows.

Donice confessed that she had always wanted five boys, but after trying several times to get pregnant and having five miscarriages she finally gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Donique.

Donique, now 10 years old hugged her mother tight around the neck before going to the next room to study with her tutor. The brown skinned little girl, wears big frame glasses, and her hair is braided in several ponytails. Although she has special needs she does well in school and takes classes specified for her learning needs. “I just want to do good and help my daughter,” Donice explains.

Now, a technical writer for Juniper Networks, Donice’s career was always very important to her. While her husband flunked out of the two-year respiratory therapy program at Ohlone, she was excelling in her profession. After he decided to go to another respiratory therapy program, which was more expensive, and he had to quit his job to attend, she became the sole provider for the family. She worked hard and put a lot of time into her job. “I had put all my effort into my career and because of my husband’s sickness I hit a plateau.”

In 1999, after her husband had been working in the field of respiratory therapy for three months he became sick after treating a patient with hemophilus influenzae. Donice came home one evening and her husband was wrapped up in bed shaking and he wasn’t breathing well. After trying to get him to the hospital on her own with no success she called the ambulance and he was taken to Kaiser Hospital. At Kaiser he was given an antibiotic that he took orally, and after a few hours he was sent back home. In the middle of the night he was once again having trouble breathing, so she called the ambulance, which transported him to Washington Hospital in Fremont. During the ambulance ride from their Newark home to the hospital he suffered from a loss of oxygen to the brain, which severely affected his vision and motor skills, also causing him occasional seizures. Later, the cause was found to be acute epiglottitis, which is an infection caused by the bacteria hemophilus infuenzae. It causes inflammation of the throat and can lead to abrupt blockage of the airway and death.

She doesn’t go too many places these days because of her husband’s seizures and after he suffered from a stroke that paralyzed his left side he takes a lot of medications. But she says having gone through so much with her husband has prepared her for her own struggles.

In 2003 around Christmas time she discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self-exam in the shower. She sat on her bed and told her daughter she had found a lump in her breast. The doctor did a mammogram and located the mass in her breast, and then a biopsy was done to determine if it was cancerous. While she was at work one day she received a call from the doctor telling her that the lump was indeed cancer. It took her a while to gain her composure to finish out her day at work. “I thought…I don’t want this load,” she whispered.

She showed me her darkened fingers and fingernails, which were another result of the chemo. She has one more treatment of chemotherapy, which she does for three days and follows up with medication. It makes her feel sick and weak, but she says, “to be able to continue on and to make it despite…you have to thank God for the ability to go on.”

After finishing chemo she will undergo six weeks of radiation. She is grateful to have friends and other breast cancer survivors she can talk to for support. Professional counseling has also been instrumental in helping her cope.

“The new mountain is that now, right in the midst of my chemotherapy, my marriage is breaking up. I helped my husband through all this, but when I’m down, poof…”

She tries not to focus on negative things. She has poured her extra energy into writing poetry, singing with her church choir, and photography. Taking pictures is her secret passion, she showed me over a dozen pictures of brightly colored flowers in bloom and birds perched together. She confessed that she hoped to take a photography class soon so that she can learn more techniques.

“Once I get behind the lens everything is gone, every trial, every tribulation, every worry, every care.”