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Knock Out - Not only is breast cancer the most often diagnosed cancer in black women, but we die from it in disproportionately high numbers. Early detection is key when it comes to overcoming a diagnosis, so this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s pledge to be more vigilant about our breast health. Read on and be inspired by these stories from real women — some who survived their own cancer, others who have been deeply impacted by their loved ones’ battles. By Kenrya Rankin Naasel (Photo: Wavebreak Media LTD/Wavebreak Media Ltd./Corbis)
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April Greene, 31, Bowie, Maryland - “I was 26 years old and pregnant. I noticed a lump in my breast and went to see my care provider. She said that it was just a cyst and that I was overreacting. ‘You’re too young to have breast cancer,’ she said matter-of-factly. So I ignored the ‘cyst’ for the rest of my pregnancy. But after I had my son, my lactation consultant urged me to see a breast surgeon who immediately suspected it was more than a cyst. Within a few weeks, I went from being a new mom headed back to work for the school year (I am a teacher) to someone with Stage 2 breast cancer. The year that followed was filled with surgery after surgery followed by chemo and heartbreak. I walked around with that lump for months because of poor medical advice, and then I was sick and exhausted, pushing myself to work through it all. I essentially missed the first year of my son’s life. B...
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Amani Brooks, 20, Clinton, Maryland - “In September 2013, my godmother Sybrina was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up until then, I had never thought much about breast cancer, but I quickly learned a lot. It was an emotional time, but I learned to treasure the important things more than ever. My godmother had a double mastectomy two months after her diagnosis and is now cancer free. For her and for all breast cancer survivors, we celebrate! She continues to be a blessing to my mom and me. I designed the tattoo in the picture and my godmother and mother, Lisa, and I all got it on our wrists as a show of solidarity. We share an incredible bond, which breast cancer only strengthened. Having a support system is critical during such a trying time.” (Photo: Courtesy of Amani Brooks)
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Erica Clark, 34, Dayton, Ohio - “In January 2005, I was a 23-year-old single mom to my five-year-old son. I had just started a new job and was looking forward to a new beginning. Sixty days after I started, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer. My world was turned upside down, but coming together with my loved ones in prayer helped save me. Ten years later, I started a breast exam advocacy organization called No More Pain, and I have made it through chemo, radiation, breast reconstruction, mastectomy, hysterectomy and physical therapy, and I know it was through the love of God that I made it!” (Photo: Courtesy of Erica Clark)
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Yakima Deloatch, 34, Cliffside Park, New Jersey - “My mother battled breast cancer with grace, poise and strength. So when I was diagnosed at 31 — the same age as my late mother — I had no choice but to possess those same characteristics. In April 2012, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I had a double mastectomy and the surgeons removed 11 lymph nodes, too, which led to me acquiring lymphedema (a chronic swelling condition). The journey wasn't easy, but my passion for life far outweighed the challenges. I refused to allow cancer to win! So I put on my gloves and decided to fight like a girl by becoming more health conscious, practicing yoga and keeping my faith strong. I wore my pink ribbon proudly and helped spread awareness along the way. I continue to mentor and assist other young women in my shoes, because there's nothing like a friend who understands your journey. C...
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Brittany Fleming, 34, Baltimore, Maryland - “My journey with breast cancer was different than what I expected. Upon being diagnosed, I felt hopeless as many people often feel. However, when I discussed my situation with my oncologist and he revealed the latest treatment opportunities available to me, which included Perjeta and Herceptin, I felt confident that I had a bright future ahead of me. Throughout the treatment process, my belief that I would return to normal rarely wavered. After completing my treatment — which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation — my life slowly returned back to normal, and I created a tutoring program for kids. Surviving breast cancer taught me that true strength doesn't come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't overcome.” (Photo: Courtesy of Brittany Fleming)
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Gleny Rodriguez, 35, Brooklyn, New York - “I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 33. I felt a lump on my breast while taking a shower. When I went to my doctor to get it checked, she told me I was too young, that as women get older their breasts produce lumps and that I had nothing to worry about. But I felt uneasy and asked to see a specialist — who also told me I was too young to worry and that I didn’t need further testing. But I insisted on having a mammogram. When the results came back, he was in awe. He informed me that I had cancer and had to start treatment immediately. I cried for days, knowing that my life and body would change. Because I learned that it would be very hard for me to get pregnant after chemo, I quickly froze my eggs. Chemo was a very hard process for me and the physical changes were beyond what I was expecting. My faith, family and frie...
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Shante Thomas, 36, Accokeek, Maryland - “My experience with breast cancer has taught me that I can handle so much more than I thought was humanly possible. At no point did I let my diagnosis get me down. After having countless doctor’s appointments, scans, blood work, chemo, a lumpectomy and radiation, I came through it all OK. I had to learn to take it one day at a time, find my inner strength and courage and to rely heavily on my faith to get through this journey. Breast cancer has also strengthened some of my relationships (having the support of my family, friends and coworkers made all the difference) and weakened others. I want everyone to know that being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence.” (Photo: Courtesy of Shante Thomas)
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Debra Marshall, 40, Elizabeth, New Jersey - “When I was 31, my mom passed away from breast cancer. I was devastated. She was just 51. It was a difficult battle and a rigorous fight, but she had an invasive type of cancer and the doctors were unsure how to successfully treat due to lack of research concerning African-American women. Her diagnosis was a shock to her and my entire family. First, there was no family history of breast cancer (but we quickly learned that history starts somewhere, and it was starting with her). Second, she lived a healthy lifestyle: She did not drink alcoholic beverages, she exercised regularly, she had a balanced diet full of fiber and leafy green vegetables, she performed her monthly self-breast exams, she attended her annual mammogram appointments and she was an oncology nurse who cared for many cancer patients. The year after she passed away, I found...
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Crystal L. Kendrick, 45, Cincinnati, Ohio - “In 2007, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very difficult time for our small family. My mother and I lived in different regions of the country, so while I was able to visit her on weekends, it was difficult for me to go to her weekly appointments and treatments. Fortunately, it was discovered in the early stages, and as a long-time employee of the United States Postal Service, she was afforded quality health care and time away from work for treatment and recovery. This year, my mother will celebrate eight years as a breast cancer survivor, but our battle with the disease continues. As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, there is a strong possibility that I too carry the BRCA gene. Coupled with at least six other risk factors, I have a much greater chance of developing breast cancer. For this reason, I am now exp...