In October of 2017, Folsom resident Cherelle Bonfield found a lump on her breast, but instead of getting it checked out, she ignored it and told herself it was nothing, but in the back of her mind, she knew exactly what it was. Once the pimple-size lump grew to tennis ball-size in July of 2018, she went to the doctor.
The 37-year-old was diagnosed with Stage 4 triple-negative breast cancer in September of 2018.
“Most breast cancers are predominately fueled by one of three things or all three things – estrogen, progesterone or her2. My cancer doesn’t follow any of them, so it’s a little bit harder for treatment,” Bonfield said. “Right now there is no FDA approved specific treatment, so they are trying to figure that out. If there were 10 different women that all had triple-negative, they would all have a different type of cancer. My cancer is a rare type of breast cancer.”
Bonfield said most people with her diagnosis don’t live past five years.
“Only about 20 percent of people with my diagnosis live past five years. My diagnosis is not a very good one, but I honestly don’t believe I’m going to die. I think I’m going to go another 20 years,” she said.
Bonfield’s friend, Vanessa Godfrey, reached out to the Telegraph to share her friend’s story and to raise awareness. Godfrey conducted part of the interview asking fun and light questions, but difficult questions as well.
Godfrey moved to Folsom in 2011 for a job opportunity, and to make friends and get to know the area, she joined the local Facebook group, Folsom Chat.
“In there I started noticing certain individuals that had my same sense of humor, and we all made plans to meet. This was the beginning of it all,” Godfrey said. “I met amazing people. I met Cherelle. Cherelle has been an amazing friend.”
Godfrey interviewed Bonfield in a 20-questions-style, and some of Bonfield’s answers can be found at the bottom of the article.
Bonfield said having the conversation about cancer history within your family is very important.
“The conversation is so important. No one told me I had a history of cancer on my biological side until after I was diagnosed,” she said. “It’s better to be educated about what’s going on.”
Everything about Bonfield’s attitude screams “strong,” “positive” and “fighter.” Her life motto is “Hold Fast,” which is tattooed on her hands.
“I got this tattoo right before my diagnosis. I was starting to get depressed and chemo was knocking at my door. I was really afraid,” she said. “I had known what hold fast was, but then I watched a movie that brought it all back.”
That was the moment Bonfield made a conscious decision: no more lying in bed, you’re going walking and doing it, and that’s exactly what she did.
“‘Hold Fast’ is an old sailor’s term for when they went around the Southern Cape of South America. It was the most treacherous cape. You’re doing the rigging, you’re holding tight and moving as fast as you can. As the storm is coming, you’re adjusting with it. If they survived it, they would get ‘Hold Fast’ tattooed on themselves as a way of good talisman,” she said. “If you had it, that means you can hold on right, so that’s what I got and that’s what I tell other women – be ready to hold on, it’s a ride, but be ready to move because it’s changing. I started out where it could have been potentially stage zero and in a month, I’m at stage 4. You have to constantly evolve with your diagnosis and be ready for it.”
When asked what she does to stay healthy while she undergoes treatment, Bonfield said feeding her body healthy food and having a positive attitude.
“It’s very psychosomatic, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I felt the lump, and I didn’t go in for months. Deep in my heart, I always knew what it was,” she said. “I tell myself that there is nothing that they can’t throw at you that you can’t take. I thought that hearing I had cancer would make me crumble and I couldn’t take it. When I decided that it wouldn’t and I realized I didn’t. That’s how I keep myself healthy – I remind myself I can tolerate it and do it.”
Bonfield has recently took up yoga and said the self affirmations are what keeps her going.
“What you can’t accomplish today with a positive attitude, you can accomplish tomorrow. I tell myself that bad days are OK, so what I don’t get done today, as long as I’m truly positive about it, there’s always tomorrow,” she said. “You get down on yourself, especially being a mother with cancer. Whether it’s not getting to cuddle enough or I had to go to bed early, it’s hard to stay positive, but you have to remember, it’s OK to say you’ll try again tomorrow.”
After being diagnosed, Bonfield said every time she would see someone, they would ask how her cancer was going, and didn’t want to be known for having cancer.
“I wear cat ears every day, and right now I have been wearing them on beanies because I’m bald. It’s really weird how it started, but as of now, and probably the rest of my life, I’ll be wearing something that has cat ears,” she said. “For me, the cat ears were a filter for my cancer. I’m not my cancer, and it’s nice to be known for my cat ears, not for cancer. It’s really helped me segue way into who I am if I’m not my cancer. I’m a cat. I have nine lives and I’m on No. 3.”
Bonfield said she is usually a private person and would have never wanted to make her life so public, but if it helps save someone’s life, she’s all for it.
“I really hope through all of this, people go and get tested early and talk with their family. I don’t want anyone else to go through this. I really hope by putting myself out there, people don’t get where I am,” she said through tears. “Don’t be scared. It’s better to hear it now and fight it than waiting to the point where you are me and you have a lump sticking out of your breast at stage 4.”
As Bonfield confronts her biggest fear, she said she has a new outlook on life.
“I look at life much differently now. I was afraid, but now I’m not afraid, and that’s very liberating,” she said. “I hope when I’m well enough to start a fund for people at risk because there are not a lot of places to get early testing and screening. I don’t want to just help women with breast cancer; I want to help everyone with all kinds of cancer. There are a million different kinds of cats. There are a million different kinds of cancer.”
- Born: Salinas
- Moved to Folsom: 1991, but moved around a lot until settling back six years ago.
- Family: Married three years to Tyler Bonfield with three children
- Three people alive or dead to make dinner for: I never met my dad’s dad or my mom’s mom because they died before I was born. Also, my grandmother, who died of cancer when I was 19 years old. I would make soup or the bombest macaroni and cheese.
- Favorite snack food: Dill pickle sunflower seeds and pistachios
- Favorite book: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
- Favorite Folsom trail: Willow Creek greenbelt trail in Briggs Ranch
- Favorite Folsom restaurant: Vibe Health Bar
- Best road trip: California to Montana
- Song to get in the dancing mood: Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder
- Favorite accessory: A little face, now that I’m bald – lipstick rogue and a little mascara.
- Describe yourself in a hashtag: #TheOnlyOne
- Title of future autobiography: