By Jacqualine S. Williams
A sunny day brought rays of hope to dozens of participants of the 3rd annual Gift for Life Block Walk sponsored by the Milwaukee chapter of Sisters Network, Inc.
The Walk, held last Saturday at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Center, was filled with seminars, medical information, health screenings and friendly volunteers willing to provide a hug, advice, or a compassionate ear.
Edna Matthews, along with other breast cancer survivors, canvassed the area surrounding the Center passing out pink tote bags filled with literature and tools such as a breast exam chart. She spoke with community residents with the aim of educating people on the importance of early detection and the hope of recovery. “Everybody who answered the door said they knew somebody, even within their families, who were affected,” said Matthews.
Phyllis Holder, also a breast cancer survivor and executive director of the Milwaukee Chapter of Sisters Network, Inc., held the first Walk at the Parklawn YMCA with the goal of bringing attention to disparities in diagnosis, treatment and death rate among African American/Latina women. “It started with power splurge,” said Matthews. “The community came out and fellowshipped. (We) built relationships right away.”
Matthews said the idea for the Walk came from Holder’s desire to help others learn about the disease, get treatment and support.
Both friends knew how much friendship helped the healing process and didn’t want others to be alone in the battle. “Phyllis and I were spiritually connected . . . I acted as her supporter, encourager and as a spiritual sister,” said Matthews. “(Breast cancer) is an intimate issue. When you give your testimony along with information, it becomes more personal.”
Matthews’ testimony began in 1999, after she noticed something strange about her routine self-exam. “I went in see my doctor . . . and had to go to surgery within 24- hours.”
Matthews received a mammogram, an X-ray of the breast, which can detect breast cancer at its earliest stages and abnormal changes to the skin. Combined with regular self-exams and clinical exams, mammograms reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Matthews’ doctor was able to eradicate the cancer, because it was caught in its earliest phase. However, she later found that she may have had a genetic pre-disposition to the disease, because her sister had persistent breast tumors.
Matthews had none of the symptoms or engaged in the likely behaviors known to cause Breast Cancer. “I was very health-consciousno smoking or drinking, I watched my caloric intake and I had no physical concerns,” said Matthews. “I had lack of knowledge of what I was going through.”
Matthews began her education on the disease by learning about the four phases of breast cancer:
- Beginning of cell clusters
- Cancer establishes itself
- Progression of disease
Physicians and cancer awareness organizations recommend that women and men talk to their doctor about personal risks of breast cancer, have necessary screening tests every three years starting at age 20, and every year starting at age 40 (average risk).
Prevention is also key to reducing risks: Know how your breasts look and feel and report any changes to your doctor immediately and practice healthy lifestyle choices.
The Walk also included healthy cooking demonstrations by Chef Deborah, professional personal chef, gave participants better eating choices that will help in the healing and prevention process. Deborah created two easy-to-fix vegetable soups made with carrots, onions, garlic, parsley, organic low-sodium spices and soup stock mixed with diced tomatoes or canned asparagus. She stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and low-fat intake in the preventing illness.
Providing education about breast cancer and its effects is a long process. To those who are beginning their road to prevention, recovery and renewal, Matthews’ advice is to remain prayerful. “Seek God’s plan for you to help others as you go through your journey.”
More resources in our community:
ABCD (after breast cancer diagnosis) is a support organization providing free one-on-one compassionate, reliable mentorship for patients, families and friends affected by breast cancer. ABCD was founded in 1999 by former Milwaukee Anchorwoman, Melodie Wilson, who died in 2009 from the disease. 414.918.2222