ABERDEEN — Amber Pleasant wears a smile on her face while she and her husband Jerome Pleasant read to their daughters Amaya, 3, and Amara, 2. Nine-month-old August sleeps peacefully in her lap.
Behind that smile hides a lot of worries and concerns, not only about Amber’s future, but the future of her family.
“I have six pairs of eyes watching me. If I start to cry or break down, they’ll start to worry,” she said.
Amber has plenty to worry about. A day after her interview with WMAR, she was scheduled to have a bilateral mastectomy. She was diagnosed with breast cancer six months ago at the age of 37, a disease she says runs in her family.
“It was a big shock that it would happen to someone this young,” she said. “I mean, you always see it, but you don’t think it will happen to you this young.”
Amber says she feels the pressure to be strong, not just for her three youngest children, but also her three older daughters from a previous marriage. She says they don’t often talk about the odds.
“We just focus on the positive and the good things and we don’t really think about the negative,” she said.
This is not the Pleasant family’s first run-in with cancer. In 2005, Jerome was diagnosed with cancer in his jaw. Doctors had to remove part of his cheek and jaw bone and his teeth. Radiation damaged his right eye and he must now wear an eye patch.
His cancer diagnosis came not long after his 18-month-old daughter Talia, from his previous marriage, was also diagnosed with cancer.
“Father and daughter were battling cancer at the same time, receiving treatments at the same time and receiving surgeries at one time,” Amber said.
Talia died a few years later at the age of 4. A couple of years later, Jerome was diagnosed with glioblastoma , a type of brain cancer. He was treated only to have it return a couple of years later. In all, Jerome has had more than 20 surgeries since 2005, and the chemo and radiation have caused other disabilities like epilepsy.
So when Amber found out she had breast cancer, she says she couldn't believe cancer was hitting their family yet again. All she could think about was her children.
“I can’t imagine all six of my children not having their mother and it scares me to think that that could happen,” she said. “So I fight every single day, through every single chemo and through every single procedure.”
The medical bills quickly began to pile up. Amber says they log a lot of miles between Baltimore and Bel Air, Maryland, where Jerome and she are treated, respectively. She says the family car barely fits the entire family and has become an unreliable mode of transportation.
Amber says they realized pretty quickly that they needed to ask for help.
“We don’t want anyone to think that we can’t take care of our children and so that’s why we’ve never asked for help before," she said. "We don’t want anyone to think that we can’t do this and that we can’t provide for them and we can’t take care of them.”
She says the Harford County community has stepped up tremendously, especially former high school classmates and teachers. Both she and Jerome say it has been a huge source of support and strength for them, and so has their faith.
“Faith is a driving force in my life,” Jerome said. “It motivates me to get up every day.”
“We’ve run out of resources so we’re very grateful to the Harford County community that has come forward to help our family because without them, I don’t know what we would be doing right now,” Amber said.
Amber’s bilateral mastectomy went well and she’s now recovering. She still has to go through more rounds of chemo and radiation.
The Pleasants have started a GoFundMe page to help cover their medical costs.
Weichert Realtors, Diana Realty in Bel Air is also adopting the Pleasant family for Christmas. They are collecting donations for the six children, who are 17 years old, 15 years old, 10 years old, 3 years old, 2 years old and 9 months old. Contact Claudia Sconion at 410-893-1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org about making a donation.