By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Brenda Hong—founder and executive director of the Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB), which raises awareness about breast cancer in the black community and provides outreach and prevention initiatives—is a servant leader who counts her blessings every day.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer 30 years ago,” she said. “I claim 27 years of being breast-cancer-free because it came back twice. … I made a firm commitment to live a better life. I feel that God has given me a mission … to help people because I know how it is to be alone and deal with this disease.”
BBBB’s sixth annual “Sistah Strut!” will take place on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 7 a.m. outside Legion Field. This 5K run-walk celebrates breast cancer survivors and their families, and helps fund the nonprofit group’s outreach and prevention initiatives.
“It is a feeling of fulfillment, … not necessarily a mission accomplished but a mission in progress, a vision that I had to be able to help people,” Hong said.
Brenda and her buddies want to be examples that breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.
“We are survivors, and we are victors,” she said. “[When a woman is] diagnosed and sees people who are living—and living full lives, I might add—it gives her encouragement. … Whatever hand you’re dealt, deal with it in a way that brings you some kind of victory.”
Hong, a Birmingham native raised in Pratt City, knows the importance of giving back and is aware that a breast cancer diagnosis can change anyone’s life.
“It changed mine simply because of the fact that I could have gone the other way, but I did not,” she said. “God blessed me with a second chance at life, and that’s what I stand on.
Hong was originally diagnosed while living in Detroit.
“I was working for an entertainer, and I didn’t have any family that lived in Detroit,” she said. “Once I was diagnosed, friends of mine gathered together to support me in my vigil to feel safe, to feel better about being diagnosed.”
Hong said she tried various Detroit-based support groups that were beneficial. Still, there was no place in the city that helped her feel totally comfortable as a “single, African-American” woman so she returned to Birmingham, where she and others “formed [BBBB], got 501(c)(3) [tax exempt status], and became more than a support group.”
BBBB performs a broad range of services.
“We offer transportation for people who have been diagnosed and need [a way to get to their] breast cancer treatments,” Hong said. “… We offer light housekeeping because we understand that when you’ve been diagnosed, it is difficult to reach and to lift. … We do five community health forums, including one at the library in Tuscaloosa.”
At the BBBB forums, “We just empower. We talk about breast cancer and prostate cancer, as well healthy eating and living with exercise.”
“We … help people get mammograms and that kind of thing, too,” Hong said.
Last year, BBBB provided 15 mammograms through the Brookwood Women’s Diagnostic Center, located at the Women’s Medical Plaza at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.
“This year we hope to provide 25,” she said. “We try to support the women we can, those who don’t have insurance or those who cannot necessarily afford to pay for mammograms.”
“This Mission Gives Me Life!”
Hong, 71, stresses the importance of mammograms.
“You have to get a mammogram! The only way we can help people is to encourage them … to get mammograms,” she said, adding that the screening is vital for women of all ages.
“Breast cancer does not pick an age,” Hong said. “I learned that there are young women in their 20s who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. So, start getting your mammograms, especially if breast cancer has been found in your family.”
Hong said she didn’t know that some of her family members had been diagnosed until she mentioned her own situation.
“[That’s when they spoke up and said], ‘Well, this one had it, and the other one had it,’ but I didn’t know that,” she said. “If we know this is something that affects our family members, then I think we would be in a better position to go and get tested.”
Hong said she has dedicated her life to the fight against breast cancer.
“I don’t have any children, … [BBBB] is my focus,” she said. “I’m more focused on this than I’ve ever been focused on anything in my life. This mission gives me life!”
Birmingham Times freelancer Trenisha Wiggins contributed to this post.
Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies’ sixth annual “Sistah Strut!”—to provide breast cancer awareness, financial help with mammograms, transportation assistance, and other services—will take place Saturday, Sept. 30, at 7 a.m. outside Legion Field. For more information, visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org.