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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Survive and prosper
Once a secret, breast cancer strengthens advocate’s calling
Published Thursday, October 4, 2012 8:14 am
by Michaela L. Duckett


Hearing the words, “You have breast cancer” has a different affect on each of the tens of thousands of women diagnosed with the disease each year.

Tia Bullett’s first reaction to learning she had breast cancer was to question why she had to deal with the disease after learning her husband was having an affair. “I was getting ready to lose my marriage, as well as a part of my body all in one,” she said.

There is no wrong or right way to respond.

After getting over the initial shock, some women openly share their diagnosis and seek support from anyone who is willing to give it.

Others choose to keep their condition to themselves. Tia Bullett, a six-year breast cancer survivor, was the latter.
She was diagnosed at age 39.

There was no lump in her breast. She was not experiencing any pain. In fact, she says she was not experiencing any symptoms whatsoever and had no family history of the disease. She opted for a mammogram during a routine physical only because she was six months shy of her 40th birthday and figured it was time.

“The only thing I was really experiencing at that time was a lot of stress,” she says.

Bullett’s physician detected a tumor the size of a pea in her right breast and diagnosed it as Stage I breast cancer.

A question for God
Bullett says she could only stare at the physician in silence for a few moments. Then she cried. Her first concern was not whether she would live or die. Instead, she questioned, “Why is all of this being put on me?”

Just two days prior to being diagnosed, Bullett discovered her husband of five years was having an affair and her marriage was in shambles.

“It was a lot going on,” she says. “I was getting ready to lose my marriage, as well as a part of my body all in one. I wondered, ‘Lord, is this what you have planned for me? You said that you would not give me more than I can bear, but this is a bit much.’”

Bullett cried a lot. She screamed. She even found herself feeling angry: at her husband and God.

“Everybody thinks, ‘How can you be mad at God? He is the One,’” she says. “But yeah, you can be mad at God because you have to have someone to talk to and walk through this with you. I felt like if He brought me to it, He would bring me through it.”

She says that realization gave her the strength she needed to face her cancer head on and cope with going through her painful divorce.
Bullett told only a handful of immediate relatives and her closest friends what she was going through.

“I didn’t want people to know,” she says. “I didn’t want the pity. I didn’t want them feeling sorry for me. Then those who knew that I was also going through a divorce, it was like double pity. I did not want that.”

Bullett was living in Richmond, Va., where she had been involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure for nearly a decade. She volunteered and ran each year in the Race for the Cure. When Komen leaders learned of her diagnosis, they wanted to use her image for printed materials used in the African-American community. They also asked her to do interviews. She agreed for a short time, but decided to stop because she did not want to become the poster child for breast cancer.

A gesture of love from afar
Bullett’s support system was relatively small.

“I let my pride get in the way,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone to know so I didn’t reach out.”

Then one day, a close friend named Pamela Jones-Dixon reached out with news of her own.

Dixon and Bullett were sorority sisters. Dixon, a breast cancer survivor, was calling to tell Bullett that her cancer had returned.

Dixon also shared that she was pregnant with her third child, and her doctor had advised her to abort the baby. Instead, she decided to delay chemotherapy and carry the baby to term.

Hearing the news, Bullett opened up about her own diagnosis, and the two women committed to fighting the disease together.
Bullett also shared that she was going through a divorce. Dixon, who was living in California, suggested calling up one of their sorority sisters, a mutual friend who lived nearby, and having her stop by Bullett’s house for support.

Bullett protested. She did not want “everyone” in her business. Dixon called the friend anyway. When she showed up at Bullett’s door, she was so livid she stopped talking to Dixon for several months.

During that time, Dixon’s cancer metastasized and went to her brain. She died soon after delivering her baby. Bullett was devastated.
“I couldn’t remember anything but that I was mad at her for sharing my business with someone when she was only trying to help,” she says. “I totally missed the point. I was so caught up in not wanting people to know.”

Getting over the fear
Bullett said she felt “stupid” and “immature” for reacting the way she did. Losing her close friend inspired her to overcome her fear of sharing her story of survival.

“I live through her,” she says. “I think of all that she went through. She went through a lot, but she was a peace. She was such a spiritual person. She was just 40 years old when she died from cancer, but she had made peace with it.”

After her divorce was finalized, Bullett packed her bags and relocated to Charlotte for a fresh start in life. She soon discovered that she was not the only one afraid to talk about cancer.

“As African American women, we often think this disease is taboo,” she says. “We think to speak on it is taboo. That’s why we don’t say much about it and the reason many of us don’t get checked.”

She also discovered that in the midst of the silence, African-American women are dying from breast cancer at an alarming rate. While more Caucasian women are being diagnosed with the disease, African-American women are more likely to die.

Many die because their cancer is not detected in its early stages when it is the most treatable.

“We’re not getting checked,” says Bullett. “We are not getting checked because we are underprivileged, undereducated and the big thing now is that many of us are uninsured… I decided I needed to do something.”

Bullett founded “Chocolate for a Cure,” an annual event to raise awareness about breast cancer and the importance of early detection. The event is also a fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds is given each year to a selected nonprofit breast cancer organization.

As for sharing her story, Bullett says, “As uncomfortable as it can be sometimes, if it helps save a life by encouraging someone to get tested or treated earlier, then I am OK with [it].”

Chocolate for a Cure will be held Oct. 6 at the Omni Hotel in Uptown. Tickets can be purchased at www.ez-tixx.com.



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