Breast cancer survivor helps others cope with treatments

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

“Uh oh,” Sonia Ray recalls thinking. She’d just spied not only the technician but also a doctor in the radiology department of Piedmont Henry Hospital, looking over the mammogram images just shot of her breasts.

That was the moment in 2011 when the Rex resident said she knew she had breast cancer.

Like climbing one stair at a time, overcoming breast cancer is a process, said survivor Sonia Ray of Rex, below right, who drew encouragement and support from, clockwise from lower left, son Marcus, 9, husband Danny and son Karl, 11. Photo by James Saxton

“See, there would not normally be a doctor in there with the techs,” she said. “The pain I’d been feeling in my breast, the lump… I knew something was wrong, something terrible.”

It’s why, even in perfect health at age 34 and with no real family history of cancer, that Ray still had insisted on the mammogram – despite even her own doctor’s thinking that the often-stressed diagnostic was unnecessary.

The news came to her in a bold but kind manner while she was alone in an exam room. It was a 5 centimeter Stage 3 cancerous mass. She said she thought of her two small children and began to shake and weep. “One nurse was so kind,” she said, and brought her a warm blanket and gave her words of encouragement.

That day was a black pit, Ray said, and it changed everything in her life.

“I was devastated, and scared of the unknown, and in my flesh I was agonizing that I may not be around for my boys,” Ray said. “My husband, my boys, my family and his family, everyone was so great and encouraging and supportive. They stood by me all the way. But you see, it didn’t end there. I had the Lord, the strongest of assurances, in my life. Because of His loving and comforting me, I knew I could trust in God to see me through.”

She would need all the comfort she could get. Over two years, every turn seemed to be the worst possible result, Ray said. “There are bumps on this journey and major decisions that need to be made. I prayerfully did them, and I have absolutely no regrets. I’ve had a total of six surgeries. I lost both breasts. I have 15 cuts on my body.”

Ray, a stay-home mom, said her husband Danny, a pilot for cargo airline ABX Air, was a solid rock for her, always patient and encouraging. “He’s amazing. He stood by me and loved me even when I was bald and breastless, and looked nothing like the women he’d married. I am so blessed. And a loving and praying family makes all the difference.”

At her last pathology report in 2013, Ray was told that her chances of recurrence – of her cancer coming back – were high, and it would most likely recur soon, within two years. “I had beaten the cancer but now I was being told I’d probably go through it all again. So I went into prayer about it. My God told me there would be no more cancer, and it’s turned out to be true.”

Ray was told that to lower her chance of recurrence she should concentrate on a fit diet and maintain a moderate level of exercise. “I started to eat vegetables and exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week. I still do that.”

Today she has a clean bill of health. “With prayer, faith, family, diet and exercise, this year I celebrate five years cancer free!”

Now Ray says she is able to see some good in what she experienced. “Little did I know, my pain would turn into my purpose for life,” she said. “I consider my journey a journey of faith, and the wind of the storm called cancer only threw me into my purpose.”

As she went through her own journey, Ray said, “I found out what it is that God has for me to do, and that’s to minister to other women that have breast cancer. Through this, we founded Harbor of Hope, a grassroots ministry here in Henry County that let me and five or six other ladies help encourage and advise women facing breast cancer.

“We do this out of our hearts. I love to work with women. And there is nothing I’d rather do then sit and pray and encourage a newly diagnosed ‘pink sister.’ I want women to know, please listen to your body, get a friend that will hold you accountable to remind you to do your breast self-exams, and know that God is able.

Harbor of Hope, a 501c3 charity which has a page on Facebook, is “a place where women and their families are helped spiritually, physically, even financially,” she said.

“There are other organizations that can help those facing cancer financially, but these women don’t just need a check. They need encouragement, they need somebody to listen, to be with them as they go through these procedures and pray for them and be told that their God loves them dearly and is still on His throne.”

Sonia Ray is busy these days, especially in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Speaking at conferences, receiving a certificate of appreciation from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, doing frequent media interviews and organizing breast cancer benefits adds on to her beloved duties as a full-time mom. “Every week, it seems like there’s something new, some new challenge or opportunity. I’m just amazed at what the Lord is doing through me. I’m humbled. I said to Him, ‘Oh Lord, this is what you meant when you said you had more in store for me.’ I’m just amazed.”

“I am living life to the fullest,” Ray said, “walking in my God-given destiny, and serving others. And spreading this message: Early detection is key. Never skip your annual pap smear or your regular mammogram. Be your own advocate. You’re worth it.”