Taking on ‘Big C’ and Looking for a Knockout

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Travis

The Rev. Dr. Ruth Travis is in the ring with an opponent nicknamed “The Big C” (Cancer), and she is determined to deliver a knockout blow.

“Victory,” said Dr. Travis. “Cancer might have knocked me down, but it didn’t knock me out. I am determined to keep fighting.”

Dr. Travis is the retired Sr. Pastor of Ebenezer African American Methodist (A.M.E.) Church in South Baltimore. She is also a retired Baltimore City Public School physical education teacher, and an eleven-year breast cancer survivor.

“Since I was birthed by a mid-wife on a farm in Georgia, my life has been all about survival,” said Dr. Travis. “My sister rescued me from a burning house when I was a child, I survived the heat of picking cotton at age seven, and my mother died when I was 15.

“I had never stepped foot on a college campus until I went to Morgan. I was a first-generation college student, and now I have six degrees. Breast cancer happens to be another challenge I’ve had to face and fight during my life journey.”

Dr. Travis was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2001 at the age of 62.

“I will never forget that day,” said Dr. Travis, who is now 73. “My biopsy results came back, and the doctor called me and said I had abnormal cells. I was celebrating my birthday that day at McCormick and Schmick's Restaurant. I had to go to the restaurant and fake it. I was celebrating my birthday, but inside, I was falling apart. I never expected to get that call. I had gone for a mammography, but had no signs of breast cancer or history of breast cancer in my family.”

Dr. Travis had a digital mammography, which allows a radiologist to capture and manipulate images so abnormalities can be seen more easily. She said that was the key to early detection and treatment.

“I was diagnosed at stage zero,” said Dr. Travis. “I didn’t have a lump because the cancer was in my milk duct. The cancer was the size of a coffee granule. I asked God ‘how long do I have to live?’ I was thinking that way because there is no cure for breast cancer. But then, instead of thinking of the word ‘cancer’, I started thinking about other words that began with the letter ‘c’. I said, ‘Christ, cake, car…anything that kept me from going to the ‘d’ word for death.”

She added, “I heard God say, ‘this is not sickness until death.’ That was the beginning of my journey.”

Since her diagnosis, Dr. Travis has undergone a lumpectomy. A lumpectomy is surgery to remove cancer or other abnormal tissue from the breast. According to the Mayo Clinic, a lumpectomy is also called breast-conserving surgery or wide local excision because— unlike a mastectomy— only a portion of the breast is removed.

“Through my journey, I have led women to Christ, and to get mammograms,” said Dr. Travis. “Any kind of cancer is devastating, but you have to stay positive and have faith. People would never know I had cancer if I didn’t tell them.”