Shirley Black: A Tribute To A Breast Cancer Survivor

Shirley Black is one of the most open and giving people I have ever met.

Each year when writing my annual blog for breast cancer awareness month, she has always been open about her experiences with cancer and her commitment to help others on a similar journey.

Two years ago when I asked Shirley if she ever wondered why she was the one stricken.  Her response while startling to me, was not surprising to those who know and love her.  She simply said: “Why not me?”

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 231,840 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2015.

While less than 1% of new breast cancer diagnoses occur among men, it is possible for men to develop the disease.

The American Cancer Society predicts of the approximate 40,420 deaths from breast cancer this year, an estimated 450 of them will be men.  African American men have a higher mortality rate compared to other races.

Some additional facts as we observe October Breast Cancer Awareness month:

  • The biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older. The average age of diagnosis is 61.
  • The mortality rate from breast cancer is higher for African American women than for white women and women of other races. The survival rate in African American women is also shorter.
  • Breast Cancer is the 2nd highest killer of African American women, 1st is lung cancer.
  • Mammography is not prevention. Getting regular mammograms does not prevent you from getting breast cancer, but it does help with early detection which can be the key to survival
  • Cancer survival starts with maintaining a healthy weight as overweight and obese women and men tend to be diagnosed with cancer.
  • As with other illnesses, it starts with healthy eating to include 4 – 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Most women who find their own breast cancer do so as part of normal routines (showering, getting dressed, etc.) not during systematic monthly breast self-exams.

For over 30 years, breast cancer survivor Shirley Black has been on the forefront of awareness campaigns that have helped move the disease from behind closed doors to an open conversation.  Her efforts along with those of many others, have saved countless lives.

On February 11, 2015, Shirley died not of breast cancer but from another form of cancer.  While many may say that she lost her battle with cancer, I and others who admired and loved her would disagree.

For Shirley lived her life with cancer as Paul commanded us in Romans 5:3-4
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope”

With a strong character led by her faith, Shirley used her cancer as a platform to help others to not only to endure but to survive breast cancer.

Therefore, as we start this month of breast cancer awareness our thoughts turn to the courage of Shirley Black and others who instead of saying “why me?” said “why not me?”

With that attitude, Shirley and others like her emerged from the dark days of sickness to the sunny days of wellness. Devoting their renewed lives to encouraging, assisting and loving others who had also been stricken with breast cancer.

Today, like every day during her life, Shirley Black is raising awareness of breast cancer, its prevention, its treatment and its cure.

And in doing so Shirley’s life echoed Isaiah’s commission from the Lord when Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Responding to the Lord, Isaiah said: “Here I am! Send me.”  (Isaiah 6:8)

Shirley Black in saying “why not me?” answered the Lord’s call for ministry to those with breast cancer and greater awareness of the disease.

We can make no better tribute to Shirley’s memory and her wonderful spirit than to answer the call to raise awareness about breast cancer. Not only during the month of October, but every day and every month of the year.

Because for this call, we must answer as Shirley Black did “why not me?”

 

What does breast cancer and bullying have in common?

Admittedly it may seem rather odd to think that breast cancer which almost 12% of all U.S. women will experience in their lifetime and bullying which 56% of students have personally felt would have much in common

Here are three things that this unusual paring have in common:

  • First, October is awareness month for both breast cancer and bullying.
  • Second, dramatic reductions in the rates of breast cancer and bullying have occurred in the last 3 years according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Third, breast cancer patients and people being bullied both have the power to succeed in the critical moments.

In this post it is my honor to share the story of two people one with breast cancer one who was being bullied both succeeding in the critical moments.

Before we meet these remarkable people let’s become more aware of what is at stake in the struggle against breast cancer and bullying.  

Breast Cancer

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in US women.  In 2011, 2,140 US men were diagnosed with breast cancer. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
  • Though death rates have been decreasing since 1990 — especially in women under 50.  Still in 2011 about 39,520 women in the U.S. died from breast cancer.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure®  

Bullying

  • 56% of students have personally felt some sort of bullying at school. 90% of students between 4th and 8th grade are victims of bullying.  1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% percent of the time.
  • 9 out of 10 LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. One out of 10 students drops out of school because they are bullied.
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Stories of courage and action:  

In June of 2011 Peat Hampton was at the top of his game.  He was a computer programmer from suburban Houston a husband a father and an athlete. During a shower after taking a swim Peat felt a lump on his breast.  Because of what she learned from the American Cancer Society, Peat’s wife Cindy instantly knew that something was wrong.  Two weeks later her fears were confirmed Peat was one of the 2,140 men in the US diagnosed with breast cancer.

Peat was devastated by the diagnosis a “man’s man”… not only did he had cancer he had the “women” cancer.  In the two weeks before his surgery Peat was down in the dumps until he met another “man’s man” Roger Windom. Roger an Iraq war veteran was diagnosed with the “women” cancer while on the battlefield. After successful treatment Roger was back in the war zone within in a year.  Roger’s message to Peat…man up!  There is no “man’s cancer” there is no “women’s cancer” there is just cancer. Have the surgery and then go tell other men in your shoes about your experience.”

Peat summed the courage and had the surgery. Now a year later he is part of the largest group of cancer survivors in the U.S., the nearly 3 million people who have been successfully treated for breast cancer.

His health restored Pete then took action he joined Roger and others to raise breast cancer awareness among men. They have formed a group called “Pink Men” which has gone across the country sharing information and saving lives.

Tracie Altman is the model teenager.  She is an accomplished student at the top of her class, she was the stage manager for her high school musical, and she was the editor of her school newspaper. However, despite all of these accomplishments Tracie was being bullied. She was the target of crude and degrading Facebook posts bullying her for being fat, bullying her for being a nerd, bullying her for being gay.

Showing awareness and courage beyond her years Tracie did not let the attacks bring her down instead she took action.  Using her platform as the high school newspaper editor Tracie penned articles about bullying.  Aware of the problem perhaps for the first time her fellow students started to take action. Tracie’s Facebook friends posted her articles for others to see, and reported the names of those who bullied her. The school board was so moved by Tracie’s articles they took action, developing a comprehensive bullying prevention program including awareness training for teachers, and students along with procedures to report bullying. These measures have helped countless others all because of the awareness, courage and action of Tracie Altman.

The Bottom Line

While the examples of Tracie and Peat demonstrates the power to succeed in the critical moments.  Others facing the same critical moment have not been successful.

  • Many have suffered and died perhaps needlessly from breast cancer because they were not aware of its symptoms.
  • Many have been bullied because they or others lacked the courage to stop it.

For those of us who do not have breast cancer or who have not been bullied it up to us to take action for those who have.  For when we do we are increasing awareness, we are giving courage so that those who are in the critical moment can take action.  If we can do this then breast cancer and bullying will have one more thing in common…they will both be things of the past.