‘Sister’s Night Out’ an oasis of support for cancer survivors

Sisters: (l to r) Dr. Virginia O’Brien Dr. Karanita Ojomo, Linda Manns and survivor Lutheria Smith at the annual Sister’s Night Out affair held Sept. 26 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, downtown.

by S. Rotan Hale

“Often when someone gets a diagnosis of cancer it just doesn’t affect that one person it affects the family and everyone who loves them,” said Linda Manns, during her opening statement at this year’s Sister’s Night Out.

This year’s event held Sept. 26 at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown, marked the ninth year of what’s has become one of the most incredibly impactful and moving experience for anyone with or without cancer. It is a major source for much information and resources as well as well-informed speakers who focus on the sobering issue of breast cancer as a major organizer of the event, Manns pointed out that “Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be one of the most distressing events women ever experience, and they may not know where to turn for help. We seek to provide information and resources to assist individuals facing a cancer related diagnosis, from a holistic framework.

As the community faith-nurse at Loudon Avenue Christian Church she knows the issue far too well and believes in the program theme of “Living Beyond Breast Cancer – Body, Mind and Soul.

Cancer in all its forms is a disorder affecting countless numbers in modern society. Unfortunately many people are going to be faced with this dreaded disease on some level, whether it’s through a family member, friend or themselves. Studies based on 2008 through 2012 data show the overall breast cancer incidence rate in Black women was 124.3 cases per 100,000 women in seven US states.

Smiles, hugs and tears of joy signal one of the most uplifting segments of the program that is the ritual recognition of survivors present among the estimated 180 attendees. Among them were those who have been cancer free for 27 and over 30 years.

This year’s featured speakers included Karanita Ojomo, a radiation oncologist with Blue Ridge Cancer Care what’s been a regular at this function for several years.

With focus on the ‘Body’ as the first of three program elements, Dr. Ojomo spoke to the meaning behind what she termed “S.W.E.E.T.S,” ie stress, weight, eating, exercise, tobacco and sleep.

Regarding stress, she urged ridding our lives of it and proceeded to speak of ‘weight’ as in getting and maintaining our natural weight.  The first ‘E’ belonged to eating healthy food–as apposed to processed.

The second ‘E’ was exercise, that Ojomo said is something as simple as running up and down the stairs is actually beneficial as your regiment “doesn’t have to be anything strenuous.”

Representing the “T” was tobacco and she included the new habit of “vaping” that she strongly urges against use of! Recent studies have shown the new trend as being seriously hazardous to health. Her final point centered around sleep and how critical it is to overall health.

Dr. Virginia O’Brien, is a medical doctor and psychiatrist with Carilion whose focus is on psycho-oncology and other conditions as integrative care to improve patient access to psychiatric services.

O’Brien fueled her talk with staggering statics that show more than 3-million women (to date) have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her fact-based presentation basically spoke of the challenging psychological affects (depression, anxiety etc.) associated with cancer.

Lutheria Smith, is an accomplished professional who found out, most precariously that she was not exempt from this dreaded disease. She is currently VP, senior associate and dir. human resources Draper Aide & Associates, Inc.

With focus on the ‘soul’ Smith, a breast cancer survivor herself, went straight for the heart with her detailed account of dealing with the news of her positive diagnosis regarding breast cancer and all that followed.

Her’s was a moving testimony that spoke to many in the room as some blotted tears throughout her story–laced with Biblical text–indicative of her belief in “The Almighty.”

Authoritative, vibrant and supportive presenters as Dr. Karanita Ojomo, Dr. Virginia O’Brien and survivor Lutheria Smith, are the main reason this annual affair–so empowering– has been such a source of support for so many over the years.