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“Fighting” for optimism is this breast cancer patient's strategy

After Chrisandra Cook was diagnosed with breast cancer, she received an unusual gift: a pair of pink boxing gloves.

“My cousin sent me the gloves and said, ‘Since you're fighting, you need these gloves. Let's put them on. We're all going to fight with you.’ I took them to the infusion room and shared them with the other patients, which was a great day. When I was diagnosed, I said, ‘We're going to fight this. I'm not going anywhere.’ So the gloves go along with that need to fight every day. There's no thought in my head that I will not be cured of this.”

This confident outlook has served Cook well since she was diagnosed with metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer in 2013. A self-described “happy, positive person,” she talks about her cancer story in terms of the blessings she’s received. Chief among them are the people who care for her.

“I have the support of my husband, my kids, my extended family, friends, and my church,” Cook said. “My husband, Danon, and my kids Brendan and Kelsie, believe I’m going to be fine; cancer’s not a problem. In the daily scheme of things, I'm good, so they think like I do.”

Cook’s strength is reinforced by the care she’s received at City of Hope Newport Beach. Her mother is a City of Hope donor and was overjoyed that Cook would receive world-class cancer care.

“She knows their scientists are working on cures for all types of cancers and she wanted me to have the opportunity of being treated there,” Cook said. “I was anxious about having HER2-positive breast cancer, and I hoped that if I was in a place where scientists and doctors work together on treatments, maybe I'd get in on a trial or a breakthrough. City of Hope believes more can be done to treat breast cancer, so that's the place I need to be.”

At City of Hope Newport Beach, Cook is encouraged by the supportive staff and relies on the trusting relationship she’s built with her physician, Wade Smith, M.D.

“I know that he cares about my well-being,” Cook said. “One thing he always says to me when I'm not feeling well is, ‘Is what you're going through affecting the quality of your life?’ He knows that I can take a lot, so if I ever say I can't, he is Johnny-on-the-spot and does whatever I need. He listens, he responds, he's supportive. I know that he's going to do what he says he's going to do.” 

Cook’s ability to find the good extends to her chemotherapy treatments. “The infusion room at City of Hope Newport Beach is just a pleasant place to be,” she said. “I love the chairs and seeing the water on a clear day. I enjoy meeting people there. We get a chance to talk and compare and laugh, because no one understands this other than somebody who's going through it. Recently, I met a woman there, and I was so excited because we talked, and our experiences were so similar. We realized we’d both be back the same day the following week, so I said, ‘OK, we're going to meet up.’ Even if it's just for that hour or two in the infusion room, it can be very uplifting.”

Cook is also grateful for the gifts bestowed on her during her cancer journey. In addition to the pink boxing gloves, she has a shawl from her mother’s prayer shawl ministry. “When the ladies made the shawls, every stitch was a prayer. The shawl was useful for my surgeries and during radiation — those times when I needed to have those prayers around me.”

Cook even has fond words for her tenacious, 15-year-old ficus tree. “It looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But it keeps growing some green leaves. Whenever my mom comes over, she asks why I still have it. I tell her that tree and I are fighting together. If that tree goes down, that means I'm going down, so we’ve got to keep going." 

She attributes this positivity to her faith. “I have a mantra I’ve shared with other patients. I feel down every now and then; that's normal. So one of the things I say is ‘Healing is in God, and God is in me.’ I tell people they can put whatever word they want in there — maybe it’s that happiness is in God, and God is in me. You might have trouble realizing it's there, but it's in you. It's a matter of saying positive things over and over again until it becomes a part of you."

Cook maintains her optimism while continuing treatment to keep her breast cancer stable. Always a creative person, after her diagnosis Cook began writing poetry about cancer and womanhood. As she writes in her poem, “Survivor”:

        Survivor...what does that mean? What does it look like for you and for me?

         It looks like healing with endurance, perseverance and strength revealing.

Discover world-class breast cancer care at City of Hope Newport Beach. Call (949) 763-2204 or click here to make an appointment.