MIDDLEBURG, Fla. — "Dwayne came to us as a foster child. We knew he was blind, but we didn't know he was blind because of cancer in his eyes," Tammy Lewis explained.
Lewis lives in Middleburg in Clay County, Florida. Dwayne was 10 months old when he came into her home as her 25th foster child.
The doctors didn't give her much hope. "They said it was one of the worst cases they'd seen in the U.S. They really didn't think he would survive it," Lewis says.
Dwayne was diagnosed with bilateral retinal blastoma of both eyes. And despite the discouraging outlook from the doctors, Dwayne pulled through.
Now, as a thriving 15-year-old at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Dwayne has beautiful prosthetic eyes and a certain charm about him.
Maybe that's because he plays the organ, the piano, and the drums. "I like this one," he says about a Christmas song, "because I taught myself to play it."
Lewis says, "I just feel so blessed to be able to be here to witness this."
Her statement has more to it than you might realize.
That's because, just like her adopted son, she is a cancer survivor.
Back in 1993, she began following Jeannie Blaylock on the TV talking about her Buddy Check program. The joint program between First Coast News and Baptist Health encourages self-exams to catch breast cancer early.
"I just didn't know that was something I was supposed to be doing until I saw it on the news," Lewis says. She remembers thinking, "What an awesome idea."
So she started doing self-exams and she found a lump in her breast.
"I'm just so thankful for Buddy Check 12. That is what saved my life," Lewis says.
What did her lump feel like? Typical breast cancer. Firm, not mushy and not painful. She says it felt like her finger.
She checked faithfully and that was key. "I thought right away that was not there last month," Lewis says, pointing out how women can detect a change that might indicate breast cancer.
Turns out Lewis has beaten breast cancer twice now. She says the treatment was rough, especially the second time around. But she's grateful to be alive to watch Dwayne grow up and succeed.
Now Dwayne can also fix small motors, even without his sight. And he can participate in snow sports and perform as an actor on stage at school.
Dwayne says this about his mom, "I love her to the moon and back."
"I just can't imagine not being here for him," Lewis says.
Lewis' story reminds all of us to check. If you catch breast cancer early, experts say you have a better than 97% chance of beating it.
You can get a free Buddy Check kit with a card to hang in your shower to remind you how to do a self-exam. Just call Baptist at 904-202-CARE. The kit will be mailed to you at no charge.
If Buddy Check helped you find breast cancer, Jeannie Blaylock would love to hear from you. Just email her at: email@example.com