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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

For breast cancer awareness advocate, itís all in the family
Pink Sunday back for ninth year
 
Published Wednesday, March 7, 2018 12:40 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

COURTESY MARY HAMRICK
Susan G. Komen Charlotte’s Pink Sunday, a breast cancer awareness initiative, kicks off April 22 at churches across the region.

Pink is not a color. It’s a cause.


Churches across the Charlotte region will bring breast cancer awareness to the forefront of the congregation on April 22 for the ninth annual Susan G. Komen Charlotte Pink Sunday. Registered churches receive information specific to their region, as well as ways to raise awareness about early detection, and promoting overall breast health.

“It really is about raising awareness,” said Mecklenburg and Rowan County Pink Sunday chair Sadrita Barnes. “It terrifies me, and it just breaks my heart any time there is a diagnosis. The survivors are getting younger, not even really knowing what is really causing it, and men are also being diagnosed with breast cancer. Not that I’m thinking that they will die, but just the fact that they have to go through it when there were possibly avenues that they could have taken to reduce your risk. A lot of us don’t know that.”

Churches are supposed provide a space to talk about uncomfortable topics. Pink Sunday touched 369 churches in 2017. Why target African American congregations? Health disparities are hardly a secret when it comes to the Charlotte area (50th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities regarding upward mobility), but early detection could save a life. Pink Sunday shares information about free mammogram availability for those in need.  Black women are the most likely to die from breast cancer. They have the highest chance of developing triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form with fewer treatment options than other forms of the cancer. A higher number of African American women are diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer versus others diagnosed. They also are more likely to develop breast cancer before age 45.

A seven-time co-survivor, Barnes is a champion for breast cancer awareness.

“What a co-survivor is, although I have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, I have been impacted by immediate family members who have [died] or have battled breast cancer,” Barnes said. “I’ve lost my grandmother, my mother, my younger sister and four aunts to breast cancer.”

Barnes and her family have lived the fallacies that accompany breast cancer.  

“My sister [Angelia Edwards] transitioned back in the day when you only heard about older people having breast cancer,” Barnes said. “When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, she was 35 years old, and at that point it was like, ‘I’ve never heard of anyone this young.’”

While Edwards transitioned, Barnes promised her that she would continue to fight.

“That is how I really got as involved in not just Pink Sunday, but Susan G. Komen,” Barnes said. “I lead the team at Duke Energy [where she is an energy efficiency specialist] every year.”

Barnes has seen that time, not insurance, proves a bigger hurdle for most women.

“One other thing that I constantly hear is, ‘I don’t have a family history,’” Barnes said. “The first thing that comes out of my mouth is, ‘that’s exactly why you should get one, because 75 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history.’”

For Barnes, who has three daughters and seven granddaughters, the initiative is about changing the daily approach to breast cancer.

“It’s almost like changing the mindset of what we thought breast cancer was, and how we thought you could actually get it,” Barnes said. “Anybody can be diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t ever want my children and grandchildren to have to deal with a diagnosis, but if they are, I want them to know that it does not mean a death sentence.”

Beyond prevention, Barnes advocates for the power of the mind to battle the disease.

“I believe a lot of it is your attitude,” Barnes said. “My mother [Evelyn Mitchell] was diagnosed with breast cancer three months after my sister died. My sister was diagnosed in February 1998. She died in September 1998. It was one of those things where she had the mastectomy, but oncologists described it as a ‘runaway freight train.’ Nothing they could do could stop it or slow it down.”

When Barnes learned of her mother’s diagnosis, she immediately thought, “Oh my God, here we go again.”   

Mitchell worked for an oncologist in Charlotte.

“Her diagnosis was a little different, because she had a mammogram, and nothing was detected,” Barnes said. “She went to work one day, and she told the doctor, ‘I need to have another mammogram.’ He was like, ‘no, you had your mammogram. You don’t need another one.’ She said, ‘I’m telling you, something is different.’ He asked her, ‘do you feel a lump or something?’ She said, ‘no, but I feel something different about my body.’”

Barnes asked her mother how she knew, and Mitchell told her daughter that she just “felt something different.”

Mitchell continued pressing for another mammogram for another week and a half, until the doctors caved to appease her.

“They found breast cancer, and this was less than a month from the time that she had a mammogram that was all clear.”
Barnes shares that experience to raise awareness, advocating that you have to know your body.

“If something feels different, request another mammogram,” she said. “Know your body. My mother didn’t find or feel a lump, but she felt something different. It doesn’t take a long time for cancer to develop. It can be 30 days. It can be 45 days.”

Monthly self-checks provide a simple way to keep tabs on your body.

“A lot of us don’t take the time to do it,” Barnes said. “You don’t have to do them every day. After my sister’s transition, I became paranoid. It got to the point where my kids were calling my mom saying, ‘Mom has gone crazy. She won’t let us eat or drink anything.’ I really did. I thought, ‘that’s going to cause cancer. Don’t do that.’ Now that I’m more educated on the things to do, and not really knowing ways to prevent it, but there are ways to reduce your risk. If you do your self-check exams every day, you won’t feel a difference. Do them every 30 days, or every three weeks. Definitely not every day, because if there is something different, you want to feel it.”

Barnes pointed out that taking care of yourself has to be a priority, even though African American women tend to take care of everyone else first.

“My husband [Melvin Barnes] had triple bypass heart surgery, and I was there, and I stayed with  him, but when I got sick, he was like, ‘you need to go to the doctor,’ and I was like, ‘I’ll be OK,’” Barnes said. “I’m getting to the point now where I’ve realized the importance of taking care of myself, because if I’m not well, I can’t do anything for them. That’s just how we’ve been for generations—always taking care of everyone else. Making yourself a priority as well is important, and again, it goes back to changing the mindset.”

For more information (registration deadline: March 9):
komencharlotte.org/charlotte-events/pink-sunday

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