Five years ago, Edith Clipper sat in a doctor’s waiting room for more than an hour. As she watched patients coming and going, and the nurses avoiding her gaze, she sensed that something was wrong.
Eventually she was led to a private room. The doctor then told Clipper she had developed an “aggressive” breast cancer that needed immediate treatment. Clipper was 48 at the time, just one year younger than her mother had been when she died of pancreatic cancer in 1997.
“The fear had just taken over. I was numb,” Clipper said. “When you hear cancer, you automatically think ‘death.’ ”
Clipper recounted her fight with the disease Monday as part of the D.C. Courts’ breast cancer awareness program.
The breast cancer program is one of a number of events hosted by the court’s wellness committee, said Darlene Ellis, a supervisor with the courts’ reporting and recording division.
Activities include yoga classes and “lunch and learn” discussions about health-related topics and was generated after employees expressed an interest in learning more about programs to encourage healthy lifestyles and to reduce illness.
This breast cancer event hits close to home for several court employees. Clipper is a calendar coordinator in the family court and has worked there for the past 17 years.
In addition to Clipper’s testimonial, the event in the ceremonial courtroom of the D.C. Court of Appeals featured a presentation from Kaiser Permanente representative Jeanette Jeffrey and an appearance from Washington Redskins player Trenton Robinson as part of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign.
The audience members sought out Robinson for autographs, but they rose to their feet and applauded after Clipper’s personal account.
As Clipper spoke, she did not shy away from the painful realities of her year-long battle with the disease.
Her treatment involved four surgeries, four months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. The process left her nearly bedridden with intense nausea and aching bones.
“I watched the seasons come and go and I couldn’t participate at all,” Clipper said. “But my faith and courage came just from showing up to my treatments.”
Clipper returned to work in 2012. She said she was surprised by the number of co-workers she encountered who faced similar experiences.
With a “new outlook on life,” Clipper said her mission today is to help support others and to teach about prevention and early detection.
Breast cancer is a heavily researched and discussed topic, with 232,340 newly diagnosed cases in 2013, according the American Cancer Society.
Despite this, the American Institute for Cancer Research’s 2015 Cancer Awareness Survey showed that few Americans realize that alcohol consumption, poor diet and a lack of exercise are cancer risk factors.
Maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle has become a focal point for Clipper, she said.
Clipper’s “triple-negative” breast cancer diagnosis has a more than 90 percent chance of resurfacing within three years. Now, coming up on her fifth year since the surgeries without a recurrence, Clipper said she plans to take advantage of each day.
“I still live with it in the back of my mind, because it can always come back,” she said. “But I just choose to live.”