By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
Twelve weeks of chemotherapy. A one-month break. A double mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes on the left side. Another month’s break followed by 25 weeks of radiation. A second surgery at the end of October.
Willamena Rambo-Richardson was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) in June 2019. Her treatments started two weeks later, in July 2019. She underwent a double mastectomy and lymph node removal in January 2020. Her radiation wrapped up in July 2020, and she is currently on break until her surgery at the end of October. Her diagnosis came the day after a close friend of hers unexpectedly passed away.
“Everything just hit at once,” she said.
But Rambo-Richardson is a fighter—and she was named the 2020 Ambassador of Hope for the Brenda Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) annual Sistah Strut, which was held on September 26.
This is just one of many events heralding the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is marked in countries across the world every October [to help] increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection, and treatment, as well as palliative care of this disease.
Participating with Passion
While this year’s Sistah Strut was a socially distanced event, the ladies in attendance participated with passion. As the Ambassador of Hope, Rambo-Richardson said it’s about being proactive about not just reactive to your health.
“[It’s about] inspiring women to know and take care of their bodies and to get the help they need,” said the 50-year-old mother of two, who is driven to inspire people with breast cancer across the Birmingham metro area to live their best lives.
In the weeks leading up to her diagnosis, Rambo-Richardson found a lump under her arm. That was in May 2019. She had a mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy and was told “it was breast cancer, and it had spread to my lymph nodes.”
“I was shocked to find out because I had been going every year to receive my mammograms,” said Rambo-Richardson, who was working as a case manager for a health insurance company at the time of her diagnosis.
Rambo-Richardson was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, “… a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer [that] affects women of African descent three times more than [White or Latina women],” according to Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer.
“Truly a Sisterhood”
While undergoing treatment, Rambo-Richardson started participating in activities with BBBB, which supports and uplifts people with breast cancer. While the Birmingham-based nonprofit aims to help women of color, the group’s services are available to anyone who needs them, including men with breast cancer.
Prior to being diagnosed, Rambo-Richardson knew BBBB founder Brenda Phillips-Hong.
“She would periodically come to the radio station, [WJLD-AM and WAYE-AM, both previously owned by Rambo-Richardson’s husband and Midfield Mayor Gary Richardson], to talk about breast cancer awareness, to help women and people of lower incomes have access to mammograms and rides to the doctor, and to just give information about breast cancer,” said Rambo-Richardson.
“When I found out I was diagnosed, it was just a natural thing to reach out and talk to her. She’s a survivor, herself.”
BBBB proved indispensable for Rambo-Richardson, who moved to Birmingham in 1971 from Cleveland, Ohio, after being adopted by her great-uncle, as well as her great aunt, AC and Katrina at a year old. She is a registered nurse, who worked in the field for 18 years. She’s served as vice president and general manager of Richardson Broadcasting Corporation for 19 years. She’s also the mother of Alexis, 21, and Austin, 19.
“[BBBB] is truly a sisterhood,” Rambo-Richardson said. “Some of the ladies who are part of the group shared their journeys and the things they did to get through. It’s really a lot to go through a mastectomy. Having someone who can relate and who’s doing well is a positive.”
“I had a very tiny cyst. For the longest, I assumed it was nothing. Breast cancer has always been something that was not talked about within the Black community,” she said, adding that being part of the group gave her the opportunity to speak with women who could talk freely about the disease.
“Whether you have your breasts or not, it does not change who you are. It’s just something you’ve gone through… You’ve come out on the other side, and you’re stronger.”
“You Can’t Give Up!”
The BBBB fundraiser was as important this year as ever because of COVID-19, Rambo-Richardson said: “This year’s fundraiser has been greatly affected because the donations are down. People are struggling and the economy is down, so that’s understandable.”
Group members also have to be mindful to social distance out of concerns about contracting the virus. Despite that, BBBB still continues to provide resources and support by helping women attend doctor visits or providing a shoulder to lean on.
While stats across the board for breast cancer are equal among women of all races, discovery and diagnosis for Black women tend to happen later rather than sooner.
“Your outcome is more positive if you’re diagnosed early,” Rambo-Richardson said, stressing that it’s important to monitor and treat breast cancer in a timely manner, as well as get mammograms.
The impact of breast cancer can be far reaching, Rambo-Richardson said, especially because many women are caregivers and worry about leaving their children without a mother.
“Breast cancer affects not only the woman but the whole community—your family, your friends,” she said. “BBBB is a resource for people to know that others have gone through this and survived. You need the positivity to know you can get through this. You can’t give up!”
To learn more about or donate to Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB), visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org, or connect at WeAreBBBB on Facebook and Instagram and BrendasBBBB on Twitter.
Updated at 10:03 AM on 10/1/2020 to correct ownership of the radio station and who adopted Rambo-Richardson.