This week I attended the 13th Annual Stop the Silence National African American Breast Cancer 5K Walk/Run hosted by Sister Network Inc. at Lynn Eusan Park. This walk brought in many supporters from all around the country as they came together to honor and celebrate Black women who battle and have overcome breast cancer.
Funds from this event help in the assistance of mammograms for uninsured and underinsured women nationwide.
To date, the Breast Cancer Assistance Program has provided nearly $1.2 million dollars in financial support and early detection screenings.
Sisters Network Inc. was started by Karen Eubanks Jackson, a 30-year breast cancer survivor.
“I was diagnosed in 1993 with ductal carcinoma stage two. And like most women, I thought I was going to die because I didn’t know anything about breast cancer,” Jackson said. “I had family history, but was unfamiliar because like most in our community, we don’t discuss family history. When I was diagnosed I found that most women weren’t talking about it and most women didn’t know any more than I did.”
Jackson said that while going through her personal journey, she thought it was important to study and make sure that when you’re diagnosed you’re not alone.
“I decided sisterhood was very important and information was knowledge, both can help you survive a long time. I went from thinking that I was dying the first year to still being here 30 years later. That tells you that when you are living within your purpose and impacting others’ lives, you forget about your own personal situation. What we’ve done over these 30 years has impacted many women across the country.”
Sharon Jones, a breast cancer survivor of four years, left a stressful job and decided to take a day to pamper herself. While enjoying her day of pampering she scheduled a breast exam. It would be during this breast exam that she felt a knot that she hadn’t felt before.
“When I felt the knot originally it was disbelief. Immediately I didn’t want to say anything to anybody,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this just can’t be,’ even though I knew my sister had already been, by that time a five-year survivor. I was like, ‘No; this can’t be happening.’ After telling my husband, we scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor and went through all the diagnoses with the mammograms and biopsies and all those things.”
Jones had an aggressive form of breast cancer, a triple negative. Now that she is cancer free she encourages as many women as she can to stay strong and talk to their doctors.
“I knew I had to do something right away. I couldn’t just sit and not do anything,” said Jones. “It may not feel like it at the time, and while you’re going through it, it also may feel like you’re alone, but you’re not. There’s a lot of support, a lot of help out there, a lot of sisters that’s advocating and assisting and helping.”
Sharon Pitre, a breast cancer survivor of 29-years, suffered from a form of cancer due to having an increase in her estrogen being too high.
“When I first found out, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it. I sat in my car and I talked to God and I asked him, ‘Why me?’ And I heard his voice say, ‘Why not you? I love you just as much as I love the others. So, this is something you have to go through,’” Pitre said. “I named every woman that I knew and I said, ‘I’m doing it for this person, that person, this person, because they are not strong enough to handle this.’ And I knew that God gave this to me and I knew that he enabled me to be able to endure all that I had to go through.”
It would be Pitre’s faith in God that helped her fight one of her toughest battles.
“I carried God with me on this journey. I prayed, I got closer and everything that I did, God just kept speaking to me and he said, ‘You’re going to be all right.’ I believed that. I had faith and I knew that this was something that I had to go through,” Pitre said.
A two-time breast cancer survivor of 27 years, Veronica Myers, suffered from a form of breast cancer that fed off of estrogen due to her taking birth control pills.
“I was only 29 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer due to the higher levels of estrogen from taking birth control pills. I was not sexually active at the time, so after I stopped taking the birth control pills that’s when the knot began to form,” Myers said. “Even to this day, I can’t take birth control because of the type of cancer that I had; it feeds off of estrogen.”
Families from all over attended the walk to show support and encourage others. I met with a group of five sisters who walk every year in honor of their mother who survived breast cancer in 2011 but had four other cancers and lost her life two years ago.
“The reason we’re doing this walk today is for our mom (Charlette Guillory) and the history on our maternal side,” Erica Guillory said. “We all decided to do genetic testing for early detection and unfortunately, I’m a carrier of BRCA one and two of my sisters are carriers of BRCA one. One of my sisters has not gotten tested yet, and we have another sister who tested negative. For preventative measures, we had bilateral mastectomies and two of us had complete hysterectomies so that we could lessen our chances of getting cancer.”
On the outside everything seemed fine, but mentally the sisters wrestled with the ever-present question, “Did I do the right thing?” And although Erica was blessed with a daughter before having the life-changing surgeries it would be the choice that was taken away from her that was the hardest to deal with moving forward.
“This type of surgery catapults you into menopause. I have one daughter and I didn’t want any more children, but it’s something about the choice being taken away from you. It was scary,” Erica said.
“It impacted me emotionally. When I had a mastectomy, I still had complications with one breast,” Lakeisha Guillory said.
Nicole Franklin was laying in bed with her husband and he felt something different on her body. She waited two months before seeing her doctor because she felt healthy and didn’t think anything was wrong. After seeing her doctor she received the results that she had stage two breast cancer.
“I didn’t take it very well. I was numb. I felt like it wasn’t real. I didn’t really accept it. I actually went back to work, and kept working like nothing ever happened,” Franklin said. “It wasn’t until treatment started that I actually accepted it. I was afraid of going through the process. I learned a lot about what was going to happen, like with my hair falling out and everything. So, I had my husband cut my hair off just because of the emotional stress.”
Franklin was supposed to go through six months of chemotherapy but only went through three. Afterwards, she had the surgery (double mesectomy) and since then has been on the road to recovery. Although she is a cancer survivor, it’s the visible and invisible scars that bring back memories.
“It’s been a little stressful, just waking up every day, looking at the scars on my body and knowing that my body will never be the same again,” Franklin said. “Prayer and worship got me through so much, so much, so much. And just being able to have family that you can depend on.”