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How Birmingham’s Kim Callines Inspired Right After Radiation Treatments

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Birmingham's Kim Callines, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year, has been inspired by survivors and served as an inspiration to others who are Breast Cancer victors. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times

Two days before the 11th Annual Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) Sistah Strut, Kim Callines began radiation treatments. But that didn’t stop her from joining hundreds of others outside Birmingham’s Legion Field Stadium to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign that takes place in October to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.

Callines underwent surgeries in July and in August prior to starting radiation: “No matter how tired I was, I told myself, ‘I’m going to make this happen. I am going to do this.’ And I’m so glad I did,” said Callines, 51, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year.

Upon arriving at Legion Field on September 24, she found strength from hundreds of women participating in the 11th Annual BBBB Sistah Strut, which has become a staple of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the Magic City.

BBBB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people with breast cancer, as well as providing education and promoting early detection of breast cancer in minority, low-income, and underserved communities.

Callines, who is from Birmingham’s Riley community and works as a financial secretary with Birmingham City Schools, remembered standing in the middle of the crowd at Legion Field and doing a 360 turn to soak in the positive energy.

“I did get some tears in my eyes, and I said to myself, ‘This is really something,’” she said. “I’d always heard [about Sistah Strut] every year, and something always prevented me from coming out—but not this year.”

Birmingham’s Kim Callines, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year, has been inspired by survivors and served as an inspiration to others who are Breast Cancer victors. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Callines now feels more inspired than ever.

“My last day of treatment at [Ascension St. Vincent’s Birmingham Hospital] should be November 7,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to getting some pink bells. … Whoever wants to go with me, we’re going to ring some pink bells and shout ‘Hallelujah!’”

A patient who completes chemotherapy or radiation treatments rings the bell, and the staff and other patients cheer and take photos. Callines plans to purchase pink bells and mail them to friends and family, so they can ring them in celebration for a new beginning after cancer.

Even though it’s been “kind of rough” since she was diagnosed, Callines said she’s received love she didn’t expect.

“I’m so thankful that I have a strong village that has been standing in the gap with me. Even when I tell people, ‘No, I don’t need anything,’ there’s always someone there to help,” she said. “There are certain things you’re just not supposed to lift, push, or pull for a period of time. I had to learn to let other people assist me with some things, which is kind of hard for me.”

Growing up, Callines attended Peace Baptist Church in Riley Station on the west side of Birmingham.

“I have always had faith in God. I was raised with the belief that you pray, and whenever you put out it will come back to you. When I do things, it’s not for anybody to come back and assist me. But since being diagnosed, I’ve seen all of this love being poured back into me,” she said, adding that her faith in God is holding her together.

Since her diagnosis, Callines has stayed busy with work-related activities or with her 15-year-old son, Braxton, who plays sports. “This has really sat me down, but I sit down and breathe and enjoy life altogether,” she said.

Asked what lessons she can share with others fighting breast cancer, Callines replied, “Don’t be scared to ask for help when you need it, and it’s OK to cry.”

“I cried a little while ago. It’s so hard to not cry… but continue to keep your faith in God. Share your experiences. Get a journal and write down what’s going on with you.”

When Callines had her surgeries at Ascension St. Vincent’s, she was told she could only have one visitor.

“My friends and family said, ‘I don’t care what they say.’ I had people everywhere. They were all in the cafeteria,” Callines laughed.

Although she had friends and family on her side, attending Sistah Strut allowed her to see that she wasn’t the only one fighting: “It let me know that I’m not alone and people care,” she said.

In addition to hosting its annual breast cancer awareness event, BBBB works with local health care providers to cover mammogram costs for uninsured, low-income women and men. The organization also offers free transportation to local treatment centers for those recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Callines is just one of the many women who participated in the 2022 BBBB Sistah Strut. Here are stories from other breast cancer survivors and supporters who attended this year’s event.

SURVIVORS

Judith Anthony

Judith Anthony, survivor, financial secretary for Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies. (Facebook Screengrab)

Anthony, 72, financial secretary for BBBB, was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, “HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)…HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.”

“It was devastating to say the least. I had five biopsies before I was diagnosed,” said Anthony, who was diagnosed in June 2009 and started chemotherapy in August of the same year.

“I finished [my chemo treatments] in probably November 2009,” she said, adding that going through treatments and radiation is different for every individual.

“HER2-positive is probably the worst breast cancer you can have. … I did four rounds of chemotherapy and [was prescribed] a maintenance drug called Herceptin,” Anthony said.

Herceptin is a drug that works against HER2-positive breast cancers by blocking the ability of the cancer to grow.

“I had a doctor to tell me that if he had to have breast cancer, it would be HER2-positive because of the Herceptin. It is such a good drug to help you combat breast cancer,” said Anthony, who took Herceptin for one year.

She also had both breasts removed because, she said, “My intent was not to have to go through that again, so I just did that right up front.”

Asked what lessons, as a breast cancer survivor and advocate, she can share with someone who may be going through similar challenges, Anthony replied, “Number one: You have to get into your inner self. Whatever your spiritual beliefs are, you need to trust in that. Trust that there’s a higher being that’s going take you through this. You cannot ever believe that it’s the end, especially if you’re at the beginning.
“Number two: It’s very important that you share your experiences with other ladies. You don’t know when you will strike a nerve with some of the ladies. They may feel like, ‘OK, I can get through this because you have.’”

Anthony knows she needs continued strength, especially given her current battle.

“I saw my oncologist initially every six months, she would run blood [tests], and they would come back negative, no cancer,” Anthony said. “At five years, I started seeing [the doctor] every year. Well, in [2021] I was diagnosed with leukemia as a result of my breast cancer. That’s what I’m dealing with now.”

Benette Eason

Benette Eason, right, hugs friend Cynthia Morton during the 11th Annual Sistah Strut Cancer Walk at Legion Field in Birmingham on Sept. 24, 2022. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Eason, a U.S. Air Force medical technician, is used to helping others with medical emergencies—then, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve helped others deal with stuff like this, but it’s about me this time.’ It was so scary. I buried my head in the sand because I just didn’t want to face it at first,” said the 54-year-old from Hueytown, Alabama, who considers herself a “full-time grandmother” to grandsons, Dallas and Austin.

Eason, who still has some active cancer cells, recalls not wanting to leave her children and grandchildren. But when she first experienced Sistah Strut in 2021, she came away with “hope.”

“I got to see those women thriving, striving, and having a good time. Even if it’s just for a brief moment, that’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “While I walked, I heard the stories of so many different women—14-year survivors, 12-year survivors, even that sister that just had surgery maybe three or four months ago. The all were out there together.”

When one of Eason’s close friends, Leslie Williams, learned about Eason’s diagnosis, she didn’t know how to approach Eason or what words to say, so Williams found an organization for Eason to join called “Sisters CanCervive.”

“[Williams] would call to pray with me, talk with me. She educated me about being in the fight,” said Eason. “It was really me being in the ring.”

THE SUPPORTERS

Tracy Hardy brought her pink-eared dog “Lulu” in a stroller to the 11th Annual Sistah Strut Cancer Walk at Legion Field in Birmingham on Sept. 24, 2022. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times).

Tracy Hardy

Tracy Hardy, a sales manager at V94.9 WATV-AM/FM radio, wants to find ways to raise awareness about breast cancer and help get the word out. That’s what brought her and some of her colleagues to the 11th Annual BBBB Sistah Strut.

“We’re supporters [of BBBB founder Brenda Hong],” said Hardy. “We met her probably about four years ago, and she partnered with the [radio] station.”

Hardy, 54, is from Birmingham’s Collegeville community, and she was excited to see the many breast cancer survivors and supporters, like she is, at Legion Field on September 24.

“[Sistah Strut] seems to have grown a little bit more than last year with the vendors,” she said. “I actually walked during the event, which is for a very good cause.”

Asked what information she can share about breast cancer, Hardy replied, “The most important is getting [regular] mammograms. … [Also], be aware of symptoms and the different programs out there.”

Yolaine Sykes

Yolaine Sykes, left, greets friends during the 11th Annual Sistah Strut Cancer Walk at Legion Field in Birmingham on Sept. 24, 2022. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Breast cancer supporters play an important role for people dealing with the disease, said Yolaine Sykes, a retired teacher and owner of the skin-care line Yolaine’s Enhancing Skincare (Y.E.S), located in Avondale, Alabama.

“As supporters, we need to be an open ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a prayer partner for those who are experiencing breast cancer. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to, to share what they’re physically going through,” she said.

That’s one of the reasons Sykes attended this year’s Sistah Strut, which continues to increase in numbers and supporters.

“Sistah Strut is not just awareness and prevention; it’s really a big celebration of life to highlight survivors and provide a little hope for those people who are currently fighting against breast cancer,” said Sykes, 53, who lives in College Hills. “I think it is an awesome event and an opportunity for people to show their support physically by participating in the Strut, donating funds, or just coming out to support survivors.

Sykes encouraged survivors to share their testimonies to “help others make it through and continue fighting.”

From left: Yvonne Moreland, Emily Studdard and Deborah Zimmerman show off their tutus during the 11th Annual Sistah Strut Cancer Walk at Legion Field in Birmingham on Sept. 24. (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)

Deborah Zimmerman

Zimmerman, 70, a member and immediate past president of the Birmingham Black Nurses Association (BBNA), is a fervent supporter of those who are breast cancer survivors. Though she is not a survivor herself, she did experience a scare several years ago.

“I had a lump on my breast. [The doctor ordered] a biopsy, [an extraction of cells or tissues for examination to determine the presence or extent of a disease], which was benign, [meaning it was non-cancerous],” she said. “I want to encourage people to do breast self-exams because I found the lump myself.”

Asked how women can learn to perform their own breast exams, Zimmerman replied, “BBBB and the BBNA have models. We go out to high schools and show students how to do breast self-exams and how to find nodules. (Nodules can be a lump in the breast; they can be cancerous or benign.)

Zimmerman, who attends Rising Star Baptist Church on the west side of Birmingham, and more than a dozen other members of her church are supporters of BBBB, and they have a special service during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“For the month of October, the color is pink. On the third Sunday of each month, our church does a Pink Sunday, during which we acknowledge breast cancer survivors at 11 o’clock service,” she said. “We are really big into Sistah Strut, breast cancer survivors, and research and education for breast cancer.”

Zimmerman’s message for anyone dealing with breast cancer is one that’s heard repeatedly during Sistah Strut for those dealing with breast cancer and for women in general: stay upbeat, stay positive, go to doctor’s appointments, and get regular breast exams.

“Make sure you get your mammogram every year or every other year, whichever one your doctor sees fit to do,” she said. “[Also], just pray and just believe in God, that He’s going to cure you and work this out.”

Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting people with breast cancer, as well as providing education and promoting early detection of breast cancer in minority, low-income, and underserved communities. To learn more about BBBB, visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org.

Updated at 12:16 p.m. on 10/6/2022 to correct information.