Ayse Bilgili waited 12 years to leave Turkey and come to America with her family. She arrived in Auburn and began working at the Student Center Au Bon Pain. One day she felt a lump in her breast. She went to receive a mammogram and left with good news: no cancer.
In December, she woke up with a lot of pain where the lump rested, and she knew her good news had gone sour. Bilgili said she called a surgeon back home and asked for advice.
He gave her hope saying it might not be cancerousbut going to a doctor would be wise. Instead of thinking about the tumor and the chances of having cancer, she took the trip she had been planning with her high school girlfriends.
“We traveled a lot, and I planned it all,” Bilgili said. “I didn’t want to think about cancer. No one wants to think about cancer.”
After she returned, her surgeon friend pressed her to go to the doctor again. She went through ultrasounds, appointments and mammograms.
“It was cancer, and it was so big,” Bilgili said as she motioned to the size. “It grew 3.6 centimeters in four months.”
Bilgili was rushed into surgery to remove the cancerous tumor on March 13. The cancer had affected lymph nodes and other vital parts of the chest area.
On the way home from a biopsy, with her granddaughters in the backseat, she cried for the first time.
“I didn’t want to cry, but it came,” Bilgili said. “I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m going to have a car wreck. I have to stop.’”
One week later she went for a checkup. The cancer had returned. A second surgery was required, and her hope started to waver for the first time. She said she went home and cried a lot but found support in her sister-in-law who had fought cancer five years previous.
“I didn’t know why I was so sad about my breasts,” Bilgili laughed as she looked down.
She said having any part of the body taken away would be hard, but breasts were different.
Bilgili said she is a strong, happy woman, which compelled her to return to work four days later.
When she returned she was unable to function in the same way she had before her surgeries, and she was moved to the cash register. This was exactly what she needed and wanted. Bilgili said the University’s dining managers and company were everything she needed during her time of healing.
“[The doctors] said, ‘You are very close to needing [chemotherapy], but just radiation for now,’” Bilgili said.
Her first thought was a ticket back to Turkey sitting at home waiting to take her to her mother for summer vacation. At the time, her mother was unaware of the cancer and what Bilgili was going through, but she was determined to go.
“I love my doctors – my radiologists. They did everything right and said I was going to finish before [the date of the] ticket and, ‘you will go to your country,’” Bilgili said. “I went to my country.”
Biligi’s doctors continue to watch her health and say she is fine and doing well. She will have to take 10 years of chemotherapy medication because of the initial size of the tumor.
“I’m good; I’m okay; I’m doing fine,” Bilgili smiled with the same toothy grin she shows customers as they swipe their TigerCards at ABP.
She said women fighting breast cancer must be strong and know that there is a chance it won’t be the end. Bilgili said she wants to focus on living her life, visiting her family and being happy.
She has two children, one in high school and another in college. Her son is in Istanbul, and her daughter and grandchildren are in Auburn with her. Bilgili said she loves Auburn, and she has never met a mean person.
“They might be here, but I have never met them,” Bilgili said. “I love being [in Auburn]. It is green and there is no traffic.”
Bilgili said she simply wants to be happy. She said, “Why cry?” Her priority is doing what she wants to do.
“Life goes fast, and I could die,” Bilgili said. “But, I don’t want to think too much about that. I want to live life happy.”