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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Full life for 2-time survivor
 
Published Thursday, October 20, 2011 8:00 am
by Ryanne Persinger

Bertha Maxwell-Roddey always battled with her chest.

As a woman who wore a size 34D bra, she was self-conscious about her breasts.
Bertha Maxwell Roddey

“People would always talk to my chest instead of my face,” Maxwell-Roddey said. “I was never able to wear a strapless dress.”

As a child she developed quickly, leaving family unsure what to do about her physical maturity.

“My grandmother being the age that she was, she didn’t understand a training bra and she just put something around my breasts,” Maxwell-Roddey, 81, said.

In the 1970s, the retired UNC Charlotte professor opted for breast reduction surgery. While having tissue removed, benign lumps were also taken out.

“I just assumed everything was OK when I had the reduction,” she said. “Having a mammogram every year was just irrelevant to me because I thought if something was wrong they would have caught it during my reduction surgery.”

Maxwell-Roddey had her first mammogram in 1989 at age 59. Two weeks after the exam, she was diagnosed with cancer on her right breast. She can’t recall the size of the lump or the stage of cancer.

“At first when you hear the word cancer, you think you’re going to die,” Maxwell-Roddey said. “I went into a deep depression when I found out. I thought, ‘well I’ve lived a long time and had a very good life.’“

She made the decision to have the lump removed, but worried how that would affect her appearance and marriage.

“I told the doctor if it was cancerous to remove my breast,” Maxwell-Roddey said. “But I hadn’t been married to my second husband that long and I wanted my husband to wake up and see at least a little something.”

Maxwell-Roddey had a lumpectomy and lymph nodes were removed from under her right arm. The tumor was cancerous; the lymph nodes weren’t.

Maxwell-Roddey, past national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and co-founder of the Afro-American Cultural Center (now the Gantt Center), now has mammograms yearly. She also shares her story with her sorority sisters and the congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, where she is a member.

On Sept. 27, Maxwell-Roddey was awarded the Eagle Fly Free Award in Washington, D.C., from the Institute For the Advancement of Multicultural and Minority Medicine. Every year IAMMM recognizes survivors of chronic illnesses and distinguished health leaders who have made extraordinary contributions through service and educated communities nationwide.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have also earned the award.

“I was really quite surprised when I got the letter telling me I was an honoree,” Maxwell-Roddey said. “I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m more than an eagle; I’m two eagles.”

Last year, Maxwell-Roddey had a tumor the size of a golf ball removed from her brain. The recovery affected her memory and forced her to stop teaching at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster.

“You just never know when you’re walking around with something,” she said. “But if I can raise awareness to this breast cancer, especially during breast cancer month, then I’m going to do it.”

On the Net:
www.iammm.org

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