I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38 and have been a warrior against this disease for 25 years. The initial thought of having cancer was somewhat daunting, but surrendering to this ordeal was not an option. Even as a Registered Nurse, I felt unprepared to deal with my physical findings. I was a surgical nurse and already had good rapport with physicians that could help me in my medical endeavors. I pursued discussions with my healthcare team. They advised a regimen of lumpectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. I relentlessly sought information that would help propel this breast cancer journey in a positive direction.
Throughout the beginning chapters of this journey, I met a lot of wonderful people diagnosed with cancer. I observed how their woes seemed so much bigger than what I was facing. Some of them had extreme medical, support, and financial issues. I was moved with compassion to help them and began to feel motivated to advocate for people other than myself.
After completing medical treatments for cancer, my voice surfaced. I shared my story with anybody who would listen while injecting breast cancer awareness in the process. I became involved with the American Cancer Society in Savannah, Georgia, which officially started my advocacy. I attended meetings, lectures, and information sessions. I became aware of the political side of cancer and learned of efforts that were in place to help cancer victims. There were also efforts that needed to be implemented to help survivors, but funds and manpower were not available. Disparities of the underserved stuck in my mind, which created a passion within me to help cancer victims. It was no longer about “me, myself, and I.”
I wanted to assist all people in becoming informed on how to improve their health. This desire led me into founding a non-profit organization that I named the Jump Up and Down, Inc. “Stay Fit” Program. It was designed to help children from underserved populations with obesity problems and included breast cancer awareness as one of the objectives. I also worked concurrently with Sisters Network of Southeast Georgia, serving as Vice-President and participating in annual door-to-door breast cancer awareness education within underserved neighborhoods.
During my advocacy endeavors, I joined the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer (NBLIC) Savannah Coalition, a true grassroots organization that was proactive in educating cancer survivors and promoting cancer awareness, early detection, and utilization of available prevention and detection services. The awesome thing about this group is that it was comprised of mostly cancer survivors, so I felt the commitment was authentic. The NBLIC Savannah Coalition joined forces with the Georgia Breast Cancer Coalition Fund (GBCCF) of Atlanta, Georgia. I was passed the baton to be president of NBLIC Savannah Coalition, and I spearheaded the Pink and Black Gala and Community Expo during 2012-2014. The events were a great success as more than 1,000 people attended the biennial event during that timeframe.
Through involvement with GBCCF, I became aware of the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund (NBCCF). As a group, we attended the annual NBCCF breast cancer conferences, and I learned the nuts and bolts of advocating at the national level. We learned how to talk to legislators. I became experienced in asserting my point of view and swaying political decisions on breast cancer policies.
As a member of NBCCF, I learned about Project LEAD®. I was thrilled upon being accepted into this 5-day science course. The teachers focused on teaching cancer basics, genetics, epidemiology, research, biology, pathology, and advocacy. The classes were very intense.
As a Project Lead Graduate, I became familiar with the Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) and their need for breast cancer survivors to serve as consumer reviewers. I remembered saying to myself, “One day I am going to become a consumer reviewer.” After being nominated by Sisters Network of Southeast Georgia to serve in DoD BCRP peer review in 2016, I was interviewed and accepted. I was excited to finally be able to have an opportunity to have what I consider “a real voice” in cancer prevention and cure.
The panel review experience was excellent. I was in awe of the entire process! The Scientific Review Officer and the Panel Chair made sure that the review process ran smoothly. Every voice was heard! The scientist researchers were open and receptive to every opinion the consumer reviewers contributed. I believe all the participants gained an abundance of insight through analyzing and comparing critiques.
I learned about research when I was in nursing school and when I received my Master of Public Health Nutrition Degree, but participating in the DoD BCRP undoubtedly gave me a broader view and clearer understanding of it all. I appreciated the opportunity to sit at a table and have discussions with people who work relentlessly in helping to find ways to combat breast cancer. The entire experience was surreal!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2020