The difference between life and death could be a four-letter word.
For Memphis resident Rubystein Coppage, love has helped her withstand her battle with breast cancer. The 56-year-old mother of two received the shock of her life back on April 8. For weeks she had been feeling a pain in her side, and then the doctors from Regional One discovered her discomfort stemmed from Stage 2 cancer.
“It’s hard to say,” Coppage said. “I was in a daze. They kept saying, ‘Ms. Coppage did you hear what we said? You have breast cancer.’ I was so out of it that it didn’t register. It didn’t register for a while. I guess about two weeks before it hit me.”
“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it’s like a death sentence,” she acknowledged. “Let’s be transparent. We want to pretty this thing up. But it wasn’t pretty for me. I went through a mental battle. I went through the battle in my mind. It’s mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s all wrapped up in one. Then I had to tell Travis. And then I had to tell Mike, my two sons.”
With her family, friends and doctors on her side, Coppage was quite ready to take the fight on full charge. She knew treatments would start on May 24 and conclude Oct. 5. She also made the mental note to prepare for surgery and chemotherapy.
“I went to see my primary care doctor,” she recalled. “She said, ‘Well Ms. Coppage, I’m going to send you to Dr. Elizabeth Pritchard. She’s one of the best.’ When I went to her May 2, I quickly realized she is one of the best.”
With her mental strength recovering, Coppage made a phone call to one of her spiritual leaders, Rita Montgomery of Millington’s United Fellowship Christian. With encouragement from her church family, Coppage took the next step in her road to survival.
“Then she sent me to Dr. Gregory Vidal over there at the West Clinic on Union,” she said. “When I decided to really fight, it took me about a month to mentally really get read. You have to understand you go through some phases.
“When you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer when you first hear it, it’s like saying I’m going to die. Let’s keep it real and transparent. It took me about a month to really come to grip and get ready to fight.”
Coppage said going into unfamiliar territory is the scariest part. Her doctors told her chemo has different effects on different patients. She had to get mentally prepared for each stage, and she knew her appearance would change.
“Some think you’re going through this alone,” she said. “But it affects everybody. It just don’t affect me. I might be going through it physically but it affects everyone around me.”
She continued, “The toughest part was losing my hair. It’s phases. One morning I woke up combing my hair and plugs coming out. I went on to the barber shop. He cuts it low. Two days later I had to go back. Why? Because plugs still coming out. So he had to shave it.”
As the barber removed the remaining hair, the reality hit Coppage that she would need strength from a higher power to beat breast cancer.
“I cried because what I really realized when he was cutting my hair that I was dying inside,” she said. “I was dying spiritually. It is death and my strength. Physically with chemo it’s the pain. It’s agony. I’ve been going through real bad physical pain.”
Coppage describes the pains and aches from treatment like having a horrible case of the flu. She said her bones ache and her nerves are in consistent disarray.
“It’s really my faith in God despite what I’m suffering physically,” she said. “It’s my faith in God. When I say my church family, I’m not just talking about where I serve and where I go. My church family is spread aboard.”
With her spirit back, Coppage is ready to beat breast cancer. She said her greatest weapon in her fight is L-O-V-E.
“With me going through breast cancer, I never took life for granted. But going through this, it just allows me every day to live it to the fullest,” she said. “I tell my kids I love them or show love to someone else. It has to be a community of love. Nobody should have to go through breast cancer alone. Any kind of diagnosis or sickness you shouldn’t go through it alone. It’s been a community of love.
“That’s what gets you through it. Love is the major key to get anyone through anything they’re going through. You’ve got somebody to come pour love into you—that means a lot to me. I can get through this. It’s love. Love is the greatest key to get through anything. Love is the key. You’ve got to have that love.”
Written by Thomas Sellers Jr., special to the Express.