HAMPTON, Va. (Nov. 17, 2017) – “We have a choice” was the overarching feel at this year’s “Surviving and Thriving with Metastatic Breast Cancer: In Loving Memory of Fredda Bryan” event at Hampton University.
"Last year it was proclaimed that November is metastatic breast cancer awareness month," said Dr. Luisel Ricks-Santi, Director of the Hampton University Cancer Research Center and event organizer. "I'm hoping that through this forum we will continue addressing the causes of metastatic breast cancer and develop new ways and strategies to combat it."
In conjunction with the Cancer Action Coalition of Virginia, Hampton University brought together some of the best female advocates from around the country to share their stories and learn about the latest research and treatment available.
“Words can change water and coping is more than a skill,” said Dr. Chevette Alston, Licensed Professional Counselor and Christian Counselor.
From the keynote message delivered by metastatic breast cancer survivor Carol Johnson to closing remarks from former Delegate and newly-elected Norfolk Treasurer Daun Hester, the day was filled with emotional moments and plenty of good laughs.
In 2004, during an annual ski trip with her husband in Utah, Carol Johnson noticed an unusual bump in the middle of her chest. Within a short period of time, the bump grew to the size of a golf ball. When she was told it was cancerous, Johnson went full throttle, opting for a biopsy and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. The news worsened when she learned that her treatment was miscalculated by 200 percent. The overdose affected her entire body, including her lungs.
“Recovering during that hospital stay was a challenge, but then again, I am always up for a challenge,” she said.
Johnson was determined to fight her cancer. Within a couple of months, she was back on the slopes skiing beside her husband as they had done so every year. But, like so many others, Johnson’s cancer returned, this time spreading to her lungs. Johnson said she did everything right, from eating proper foods to getting plenty of exercise.
“Life gives you choices, not chances,” she said. “The difference between success and failure is about the choices you make.”
Her story of not giving up hope was echoed across the room and woven into a similar message delivered by Hester, who shared her unique story of survival.
“Cancer sucks all the time,” she said jokingly. “That isn’t really the word I want to use, but it’s the closest to a really negative word I could say.”
Her sense of humor was well received as many women in the audience related to her struggle.
Hester became an elected official in 1996. In 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, two different types -- in both breasts -- at the same time.
“You have to find the joy in the pain because the journey is very hard,” she said.
Being a public official, she questioned whether she should tell the public, but she knew she had to.
“I didn’t mind because I knew there was a reason I was on this journey,” she said. “I guess that was to help people learn that they can make it through.”
As a 14-year survivor, Hester gave the praise to God. She also acknowledged that far too many women haven’t survived or are still going through the struggle.
“It is imperative that we advocate until we eradicate cancer of all forms,” Hester said.
Hester empowered women to reach out to their local officials and not leave them alone.
Remembering her good friend Fredda Bryan, who lost her fight to cancer and who helped create this annual event at HU, Hester said, “Fredda advocated for everybody. She was in my face in the general assembly. She was in my face in Norfolk. She said, ‘Daun let’s go here. Let’s go there.’ I want to energize you all to become the Fredda."
“Many women walked away from this event feeling inspired and empowered as they were equipped with knowledge and resources they didn’t have before,” Ricks-Santi said. “This event continues to give women hope during what could be one of the darkest times in their lives.”