By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times
To kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed annually each October, Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies hosted its annual Sistah Strut at Birmingham’s Legion Field on Saturday.
Political leaders, breast cancer survivors and supporters from the Birmingham metro area stood united in the fight to bring awareness to the disease, while also helping raise funds to continue providing resources.
Survivors shared two main items that helped them in the fight against breast cancer – the importance of early detection with mammograms and proper nutrition and diet.
Jolie Jones, 49, is currently in the fight to beat breast cancer. Originally from Griffin, Georgia, she discovered she had breast cancer after a routine doctor’s visit in Birmingham in April.
Having dense breasts, Jones said she was accustomed to doctors taking a second look. “I thought they were calling me back to look just as they had in the past. Her being quiet on the phone [from the doctor’s office], I could tell there was something going on.”
It was confirmed when she went back in for a second mammogram.
“Mine [lump] was about the size of a pencil eraser so I wouldn’t have felt it for a while [without the mammogram and then it was up under the thick [breast] tissue,” she said. “So until it got larger, would I have known it was there?”
“When you get the results back, that’s a stunner, a shocker. You have to get a marker in your breast and that’s to detect where the breast cancer is.”
Jones decided to have a lumpectomy on August 1, which involves doctors going in and take out the cancer and tissue around it.
Now, she’s being treated and also had detected in her lymph nodes. “It’s a long process, you go through mammogram after mammogram, CT’s [computed tomography scan, used to provide detailed information about the body], a biopsy. And it’s all a waiting game.”
As a U.S. Navy veteran, all of her medical services have been done at the Birmingham VA Hospital. Jones says she’s not only in the fight for herself, but also her daughters ages 28, 25 and 22.
“I want them to be informed about what’s going on with me and what they [may] have in store for them.”
Shirley Williams, 64, originally from New York is a five-year breast cancer survivor. She came to Birmingham and studied computer science at Birmingham Southern and UAB. She works at U.S. District Court and is nearing retirement in December.
She said she went for a routine mammogram at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center, which showed nothing, but “one of my doctors said he thought he felt something.”
That exam led to an additional 3-D mammogram which showed a very small lump in her left breast. “It was hiding so it was kind of hard to see it or feel it,” said Williams. “So I specify, that it’s very important that ladies get a mammogram. And you need to get the two dimensional one that can really see.”
As part of her treatment, she went through chemotherapy and radiation and said remarkably she experienced very few negative side effects from the drugs.
She also says her family’s presence was key in her recovery. “My husband was my backbone. He was there for me and he protected me. I have three sons and they also supported me. And I had the support of all my doctors at Brookwood and my friends at my church at that time (The Guiding Light Church in Birmingham).”
And as she thought back, Williams said she was prepared for her journey in the most unusual way. She didn’t have to worry about one of the main side effects of breast cancer. “I had alopecia, so I was already accustomed to wearing this style [bald head]. So God was preparing me because He knew what was coming.”
Williams also stressed that any woman battling breast cancer remember the importance of proper nutrition and exercise to help their body. “I ate a mainly Mediterranean diet while I was going through treatment and it really helped,” she said.
To find out more about Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies or to donate, visit https://brendasbrownbosombuddies.org/.