LORAIN - About 150 friends and family from Michigan, New York, Chicago, Maryland and Ohio gathered Saturday night at Tower Sports & Fitness in Lorain to celebrate the 40th birthday of Abimbola Fasola, who was also celebrating being a three-year survivor of breast cancer.
Many of the women sported brightly colored formal dresses and pink gele head wrap in honor of Fasola's fight against cancer. Abimbola and her husband, Adekunle, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria 10 years ago. Everyone Saturday was celebrating a life they'd feared was going to be cut tragically short.
Fasola was five months pregnant in August 2007 when she got the diagnosis of stage III breast cancer. She was told the cancer was aggressive. Doctors told her she'd have to end her pregnancy in order to immediately have surgery and begin the treatments she needed to save her life. It wasn't something the couple wanted to do.
"We had to choose," Adekunle Fasola said. "She say she not want to go against our religion, but how do we save her life? I wanted her to end the pregnancy, but she believed there'd be a way out of it."
Abimbola Fasola was right.
The doctors decided that since she was in her sixth month of pregnancy, chemotherapy treatments would have little impact on her unborn child. The couple, already the parents of two girls, continued with the pregnancy of their third daughter.
She had three chemo treatments during her pregnancy. Finally, on Nov. 30, 2007, her doctors discovered the amniotic fluid protecting the baby was dangerously low and an emergency C-section was performed. Folakemi, now 3, was born.
Fasola remembered being very impatient during the surgery to have her daughter born, but she also remembers refusing to see the baby for several hours afterward because she was convinced the chemo treatments had harmed the child and no one had told her.
"My heart was just jumping," she said, when a family member finally insisted the nurses bring the baby into her room.
"I start crying to see how beautiful she is," Fasola said as her eyes filled with tears. "I kept asking myself if everything is in the right proportion, and are her fingers OK?"
Fighting breast cancer is hard enough, but trying to do it in the middle of a pregnancy was extremely difficult for the entire family.
The couple's 12-year-old daughter, Olamide, remembers being very sad when she learned her mother had cancer. Olamide helped out as much as possible and said she was happy Saturday to be celebrating her mother's birthday when no one had been sure three years ago if Abimbola Fasola would survive the cancer.
Adekunle Fasola said the hardest thing for him was not knowing what to do and not knowing how to answer his wife's questions about their future.
Abimbola Fasola said "sadness and joy" in equal measure marked those dark days.
"It wasn't easy," she said. "One minute you're smiling and the next minute you're scared you will die."
Now, she radiates joy as she hugs Folakemi and tells her she loves her.
Her sister, Abisole Kazeen, 27, of Euclid, said the whole family was worried.
"Is she going to survive it?" Kazeen said as her eyes filled with tears. "We love her so much and we didn't want to lose her."
Shortly after Folakemi was born, Fasola had a mastectomy and six weeks of radiation treatments. She remembers losing her hair but not letting the disease, or the side effects of its treatment, get in the way of life. She thinks her positive attitude is one reason she's doing so well today.
"I thought even if I die, I don't want to live my life behind closed doors wondering what's outside," she said. "I don't want people to say 'Oh, we had fun!' Hell no - we are going there together!"
Adekunle Fasola credits the medical care available in this country with his wife's success so far in beating breast cancer. Both of Abimbola's parents and Adekunle's mother died from cancer in Africa.
"The only difference is because we're in the U.S.," he said.
Saturday was about celebrating as the tables covered in food, the music, the multi-tiered pink cake and the laughter of the crowd attested.
Kazeen, who immigrated to the states with her husband two years ago, pretty much summed up the mood.
"Now, I'm so happy," she said. "This is the most happiest day in our life."
Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.