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Birmingham’s Pink Hat & Tie Luncheon Draws Dozens for Fight Against Breast Cancer

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Pink hats filled the downtown Harbert Center during the Brenda's Brown Bosom Buddies 13th Annual Pink Hat & Tie Luncheon in downtown Birmingham. (Desiree Greenwood, For The Birmingham Times)

By Nicole S. Daniel

The Birmingham Times

Marquita Bass knows about the business field and breast cancer risks. On Saturday she combined both as the featured speaker at the Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies (BBBB) 13th Annual Pink Hat & Tie Luncheon in downtown Birmingham.

Bass, who has an MBA from Mercer University and two degrees from Georgia State University, is also a breast cancer survivor and told guests on Saturday “to be the CEO of your health.”

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The event was hosted by BBBB a 501(c)(3) 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.

“I want to encourage everyone in this room, men and woman, to be the CEO of your health,” Bass said at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham. “I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Unfortunately, triple negative breast cancer disproportionately affects African American women.”

Bass, who lives in Atlanta, believes women should understand and manage their breast cancer risk factors to possibly avoid a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Men and women get breast cancer. Breast defines who we are. It defines our womanhood, and our sexuality. Breast cancer for a lot of women defines who they are individually. Prior to my diagnosis I walked around feeling good about my breast, my body image, now 11 years later after having a double mastectomy with reconstruction and got implants three years ago and decided I was over implants,” she said. “It was more of a hassle for me. Now I walk around I say that because I am enough,” said Bass, who strutted with her head held high on stage to emphasize her point.

Bass encouraged everyone to talk to their health care provider about having an advance screening other than a mammogram.

“A mammogram does not pick up breast tumors for you. If she refuses to do an advance screening, fire her and find someone else … also stay on top of your screenings and know that you are enough,” said Bass, who added that the “number one patient advocacy is yourself … survivorship matters. Also join a cancer support group. Find a tribe that you can talk to.”

BBBB, once such support group, was founded by Brenda Hong in 2010, and works with local health care providers to cover mammogram costs for women and men.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway said he partners with Hong, BBBB’s executive director, on breast cancer awareness and prevention because of the work being done.

“When I heard of [Hong’s] mission it led me to give to her because I too had a family that’s been attacked by cancer, not only on my side but my wife’s side,” Pettway said. “I said I must do my part to help educate everyone as much as possible about cancer and how to defeat it.”

The sheriff continued, “I joined with [Jefferson County] Commissioner Sheila Tyson to make sure we advertise throughout the community what Mrs. Hong is doing. We got together, I donated a vehicle and Commissioner Tyson and I decorated the vehicle with all the information about Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies so the community can be aware of what our ‘she-ro’ is doing for the community.”

Breast Cancer ‘Victor’

This year’s honoree was Tonya Allen, a librarian at Minor Elementary School and a three-year “victor” over breast cancer.

“Ladies and gentlemen, today I stand before you with immense gratitude and this accomplishment is not mine only,” Allen said. “I share this accomplishment with the students, staff and my illustrious principal Dr. Vanessa G. Byrd [Minor Elementary School] who is here with me today. Three years ago, the test came to my doorstep. After becoming a victor I decided to ask Dr. Byrd if she would allow me to take it up a notch. We designed ‘Minor [School] Goes Pink’. I asked all of the staff and students to donate $2.”

Allen says the $2 came in slow at first.

“I got on my knees and prayed. I said Lord, ‘all I am asking for is $400 to divide between BBBB and another group that is no longer here.’ This is the first year I told my students about my diagnosis. Today I stand before you to say that $400 goal that I had we exceeded that goal by raising $1,000.”

Pettway also asked individuals to give their support. “I want to leave by saying give from your heart, give often and give as much as you can because … it takes money for her to continue to do the work she is doing in the community. I will contribute but I am asking you to do the same. Meet me as I continue to give for a great cause.”

For more information, call (205) 588-0703, or visit brendasbrownbosombuddies.org.

Updated at 2:04 p.m. on 6/12/2023 to correct name of organization and add link to website.