My Sister's Story

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

We were blessed enough to be born into a large God-fearing and loving family of nine children-five girls and four boys. Andrea is the youngest of the girls, and is a three-time breast cancer survivor.

In 1968, I remember stopping by the hospital to see Andrea when she had her first child. I was on my way to our hometown of Moultrie, GA, to attend the funeral services of our Aunt Maggie. Andrea was so disappointed that she couldn’t attend, because out of all of us, she had the closest relationship with her. It was 15 years later that we learned that Aunt Maggie had died of ovarian cancer.

Our family had very few medical problems-one brother developed diphtheria as a baby and Dad’s hypertension led to heart problems. So, you can imagine how devastating it was to get the news about Andrea’s breast cancer. As we thought back, we really didn’t know of any other family member diagnosed with this disease.

The first diagnosis in June 1989 was early stage breast cancer with no lymph nodes involved. Andrea only had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. She continued her regular lifestyle routine, working each day, only leaving at lunchtime to receive the radiation treatments. Then in October 1990, she received a second breast cancer diagnosis, this time in her right breast. Andrea had to undergo the same treatment as before. After this, Andrea received the good news that she was cancer free. What a blessing! During all this, I learned a lot more about breast cancer through the help of my son, Murray, who is a physician. This gave me the assurance I needed to calmly pass on this information to our other family members, including our parents.

After the second diagnosis, Andrea was certainly aware of the need to continue her monthly breast self-exams and even more importantly, to continue her bi-annual mammograms. In December 1993, she faced yet a third breast cancer diagnosis. At that time her doctors said a lumpectomy and radiation therapy were no longer options, and she had a 10-hour surgery for bilateral mastectomies, which meant the removal of both breasts. The blow that Andrea received was softened when she learned that reconstruction surgery would be performed at the same time. When the doctor called and reported that the surgery was a success, I was very relieved and thankful. I thanked God and began to call my prayer group members with the good news.

It has now been more than 10 years, and Andrea continues her cancer-free lifestyle. Since her first diagnosis, Andrea has been committed to a spiritual ministry of supporting many other women who experience the trauma that is brought on by the devastation of this disease, breast cancer. She enjoys getting these women back and forth to the doctor, comforting them before and after surgery and speaking to large and small groups regarding the importance of early detection through monthly self-exams and mammograms. Unfortunately, in the African American community, Andrea often reflects on the many funerals that she has attended of young women who have lost their battle to this dreadful disease.

My sister Andrea is a member of the Sisters Network, Inc., which is in partnership with the Sister Study. When Andrea brought me the brochure about the Sister Study, I immediately realized that this was an opportunity for me to make a difference, so I joined the study. My sisters Odessa and Oretha have also joined the study. Historically, African Americans experienced much abuse at the hands of uncaring scientists, which has caused much distrust, fear and unwillingness on our part to participate in any type of research. I feel that it’s now important to join the Sister Study to help find answers that will be beneficial to future discovery of the causes of breast cancer. Too many women are dying and I feel it’s time for me to “step out on faith” and do all that I can to help find a way to combat and eventually find a cure for this dreadful disease. I have now made this my personal crusade to encourage other women whose sisters have experienced breast cancer to join this Sister Study!