In late 1985, Elizabeth Richard noticed a recurring cyst on one of her breasts. Doctors lanced it and tested it. All results were negative.
But then Richard noticed a painful lump. Her doctor said it was probably nothing. She was prescribed pain pills, which didn’t help. Finally, Richard insisted on having the lump removed. Her surgery took place on December 27, 1985. Post-surgery tests showed the lump was indeed breast cancer.
“My doctor told me how glad he was that I was persistent,” Richard said. “You know your body, so you have to let them know what you are feeling and how you want to handle it.”
Richard said she didn’t let her diagnosis bring her down.
“I think a lot of times, people hear that and think they are going to die, but that wasn’t my thought,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to be all right.’ My family was crying and upset. I told them they needed to stop because that was not how I was going to live my life.”
Richard, then 28, went through six rounds of chemotherapy and an almost complete mastectomy. Her surgery took place in December 1985. A month later, her father passed away. In one of their last conversations, he told Richard not to worry because her daddy was going to take care of her.
“I didn’t really understand what that meant,” she said. “I was always spoiled after him and he always made me feel special. When I came home and got the call saying my father passed, I knew what he was trying to tell me.”
Richard kept working at Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She and her husband raised their two daughters in their longtime home in Lafayette’s Azalea Park neighborhood.
Richard continued with yearly mammograms on her remaining breast. In 2011, doctors noticed something suspicious. At first, they thought it was scar tissue, but did further tests. On October 12, 2011, after a core biopsy, Richard learned she had breast cancer again.
“I felt at that time that God gave it to me to spread the word and make everybody aware that you need to check your body,” Richard said. “That’s been my motto.”
After medication and other treatments, Richard is now cancer-free. She continues with regular checkups and blood work, and everything has come back clean. She knows she is fortunate. One of her aunts and a cousin both died at the age of 50 from breast cancer.
Richard now works with youth and teens in pageants and other activities. She visits her granddaughter’s school sometimes. In all of her interactions, especially with youngsters, she emphasizes the importance of people knowing their own bodies, being aware of things that don’t seem right and pushing for their own health care.
“I’m really big on spreading the word as much as I can,” she said. “I did a live radio talk show with a friend of mine in Houston because she wanted to me to talk about my experience. Anytime somebody asks me to advocate, I am there and ready to speak.”