Annual Sister’s Night Out empowers survivors with knowledge and hope.
by S. Rotan Hale
Before a full room of supporters in pink, organizers of the 8th Annual Sister’s Night Out scored another hit for the home team.
Held Thursday, Sept. 27 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown, the event provides a flood of information about many issues regarding breast cancer – a disease that reportedly effects African American women disproportionately.
Various levels of cancer specialists, care givers and an accomplished motivational coach all tailored their message to the program’s theme “I Have Cancer But…”
The program is “a celebration of survivorship in spite of the diagnoses of cancer,” explained program MC Kianna Marshall. “The main focus is to raise awareness and provide information on the importance of primary healthcare… and to break barriers regarding early detection and prevention.”
Among the issues discussed by Jane Smart, program manager, American Cancer Society was the organizations outreach efforts connecting with communities, clinicians and various other non-profits, etc. to promote cancer screenings (i.e. mammograms).
She also spoke about the “Look Good Feel Good” program that provides mental, physical and cosmetic support to revive the spirit of cancer patients and survivors.
“At age 45 everyone should have a conversation with their doctor about colon cancer,” she said before shifting to prevention involving other forms of cancer, (i.e. cervical, liver, etc.).
Others who spoke were: Andrea Clark, RN with Every Woman’s Life, a Carilion Hospital affiliate with major focus on financial assistance for those dealing with treatment related expenses.
Elizabeth Hand, community engagement mngr. also spoke on the wide range of resources offered to patients through the Susan G. Komen, Virginia Blue Ridge organization–a major partner and sponsor of the program.
One of the more impactful moments is the recognition of the many breast cancer survivors that attend the function. This year approximately thirty women stood before the crowd proudly recognized individually by their years (ie. 10, 20, 30+) as survivors.
Among them was Mary Butler who came forward as a 32-year survivor of the dreaded disease.
Danielle Alexander told her engaging story as a survivor of an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her cancer was first diagnosed in 2015 and shortly thereafter she was informed that it had a high-risk of returning after treatment.
“The hardest decision for me was when and how to get all my hair cut off,” she said. “I didn’t care so much about getting my hair cut off but please don’t let me loose my eye lashes and eye brows – and I didn’t thankfully!
Among a host of troubling issues, naturally her vanity came into play, which can often be the case with many women especially facing such difficulties as “fear, anger, resentment and denial.” Furthermore, most importantly she had to set the tone for her family regarding the troubling condition and the perplexing journey ahead.
“My family watched as my hair fell out and I lost weight because I couldn’t eat… and yet I had never been sick before.”
“I was here (at the program) exactly three years ago. It was in the middle of my treatment and I sat here bald with a pink turban on my head and I was so tired but I needed to be here,” she said with a smile rooted in the uplifting approach that transformed her misfortune.
“Amazingly, here I am years later with that smile on my face sharing my story.”
Dr. Karanita Ojomo has been a regular facilitator at the function for years. As a radiation oncologist with Blue Ridge Cancer Care, Ojomo is well-equipped to deliver everything one needs to know about prevention and treatment of cancer related to women.
Ojomo raised several critical points using the program’s theme :I have cancer but…”
“I do self breast exams,” she noted and urged women to develop a schedule of once a month. She spoke about other important issues as mammograms, proper exorcise and debunked the fallacy that if you have cancer and they operate, it will spread throughout the body.
“As a cancer doctor I have to explain to people that cancer spreads because it gets into the blood stream, the lymphatic system or another organ.”
Her informative and most amusing talk was accentuated by an exquisite solo performance involving delegate modern dance moves while draped in an elaborate butterfly-like cape with miniature colored lights. Her presentation was totally unexpected and second to none.
A brilliant address by Shanna Flowers, mngr. Volunteer Services, Carilion Clinic, was centered on spirit building.
“God’s best blessings are on the other side of pain,” she said quoting Rev. Charles Stanley, pastor, First Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA.
“Cancer is an opportunity to look at life through a different lens and to embrace it (life) more fully,” she explained and told 3 stories that served as testimony to the aforementioned directive.
She took the opportunity to highlight her book “The Beauty of the BUT… And other musings of God’s goodness.”
The book (in paperback) is an impressive collection of faith-based tenets that serve as a moral map to maintaining a well-balanced perspective through life. It provided the perfect basis for her talk with such chapters as: “Giving God Full Access,” “Pay it Forward,” “Focus on the Future,” and “Wait on God.”
“The Beauty of the BUT: A Lesson in Obedience” closes this extraordinary 135 chapter work that is a must read for anyone striving to better themselves.
The yearly event is one of those eye-opening, soul-stirring affairs that causes one to want more at it’s close. The Annual Sister’s Night Out is sponsored, in part by a host of area health care businesses and organizations–all valued partners in this worthwhile effort to minimize the tragic circumstances regarding cancer.