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Sunday Focus: Residents relate breast cancer awareness stories

By SABRINA SIMMS & GENE COLEMAN

NATCHEZ — October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and  Miss-Lou residents have shown their support recently for breast cancer research through several programs and fundraising opportunities.

Statistics show that 1 in 8 women will be affected by breast cancer and if they have not been affected by breast cancer themselves, just about everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer.

That personal connection leads many people to become involved in helping fund research and raise awareness of the disease.

Below we present the personal stories of several people in the Miss-Lou who are active in the fight against breast cancer.

 

Concerts 4 the Cure

One breast cancer fundraising program underway is a series of concerts dubbed, “Concerts 4 the Cure.”

Dan Gibson, the face of the fundraising effort, had been nominated to represent Natchez in the American Cancer Society’s “Real Men Wear Pink” competition.

Gibson said he immediately accepted this role and wore the color pink proudly. For him, the cause is very close to home, Gibson said.

“My grandmother passed away of breast cancer in 1959,” Gibson said. “My mother passed away of cancer in 1990 at the age of 60, but we don’t know if it was breast cancer or not. … She would not go to the doctor. … The cause is very near and close to me.”

In memoriam

Gibson said the person who nominated him is a very close friend of his, Cora Beth Hartfield.

Hartfield and her sister Meade have avidly supported the cause since their mother, Sherry Pierce Hartfield, died of breast cancer a year ago in August, she said.

“I nominated Dan in honor and in memory of my mother,” Hartfield said. “She had stage four inflammatory breast cancer. … It’s known as a silent killer, because it doesn’t show up on mammograms.”

Hartfield said her mother discovered a rash and went to the doctor. However, she had no itching or discomfort from it, Hartfield said. By the time Sherry was diagnosed at 64 years of age, her cancer had metastasized — which ruled out surgery, Hartfield said.

Sherry received comfort and treatment at Hederman Cancer Center in Jackson, Hartfield said.

The American Cancer Society assisted Sherry with her care and provided her with wigs when she lost her hair three different times while she was being treated, Hartfield said.

“She was given three to six months to live, but she lived five and a half years after that,” she said. “Dan spoke and read a poem at my mom’s funeral. … He was always a real man in pink, but after I nominated him for the role he just stepped it up a notch.”

Team Natchez’s “Concerts 4 the Cure” have raised an unofficial total of more than $20,000 for the American Cancer Society, possibly putting the city in the top 10 of most funds raised for cancer research nationally, Gibson said.

Spreading the faith

Hartfield said her mother’s diagnosis came to her as a shock, but her mother used it as an opportunity to spread her faith to other victims of cancer for the remaining years she had left.

“My mother didn’t look at cancer like it was the end,” Hartfield said. “She looked at it as the opportunity to live life and live out every single day to its fullest. … We all have today and we’re not promised tomorrow. God gave me five and a half extra years with her and I am blessed.”

Hartfield said she and Meade made “Team Sherry” T-shirts and bracelets to show their support for their mother, and Gibson joined the American Cancer Society’s efforts to help.

“The best medicine was not the chemotherapy,” Hartfield said. “It’s the friends and family that are there through it all. … To see a guy be bold and wear pink — and be proud of it — it meant a lot to her.

“I think cancer research should be on the forefront all the time, but it is personal for me. It’s important for me to raise awareness, but more importantly, I want to cure it.”

Self-examination

Self-examination led Natchez resident Sandy Taylor to her first diagnosis of breast cancer 12 years ago, Taylor said.

“I was deep, deep in stress and I always had my exams and mammograms, but I happened to feel a lump under my right arm,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s husband, Tom, was scared and insisted she be examined right away. She did, and she found out it was Stage 3 breast cancer.

“I definitely want to encourage women to self-examine themselves because (despite) all of the equipment, sometimes they don’t find anything,” Taylor said.

Treatment

Several options are available for treatment after a diagnosis of breast cancer and Taylor said she considered the many approaches to treatment but ultimately chose chemotherapy and radiation.

“That year of chemo and then the radiation; it was not fun, let’s put it that way,” she said.

It was her husband, Tom, who helped her through the difficult time, Taylor said, when he offered to get her anything she wanted, which was a convertible sports car and a Labrador retriever.

“One night I came home from work and all of a sudden I saw this little white ball of fur coming toward me,” Taylor said. “I dropped my books and sat on the floor, and I said her name, I knew I would call her Magnolia. She is 12 today and we still have her.”

Preventive measure

But the fight wasn’t over for Taylor and her husband, as the need for surgery returned.

“Time went on and then they decided to take the other breast, and that was tough because it would have been better if they had taken them both the first time,” Taylor said. “I have had a lot of surgeries and I don’t care what I look like as long as my husband doesn’t care.”

Taylor said she is very active in supporting efforts for breast cancer awareness. She sells products for Mary K, which donates a percentage of sales to breast cancer awareness. Taylor also is involved in the American Cancer Society and last year participated in Paint Natchez Pink Day.

Regular checkups

Natchez resident Faith Stretch is deeply involved in not only breast cancer research fundraising but also in raising awareness when it comes to breast cancer.

In 2011, Stretch was diagnosed with level one breast cancer through a mammogram, and she received a double mastectomy. In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again as it metastasized into the bones of her spine and hips. After years of chemotherapy and radiation, Stretch said she still receives injection treatments.

Stretch said that as a two-time breast cancer survivor she has seen too many friends die for lack of early detection. Stretch said she encourages everyone to be checked regularly.

“A lot of people are afraid to know if there is anything wrong with them and some feel they don’t have the money (for routine screening tests),” Stretch said. “I’m very interested and driven to get people to get early detection so we can treat earlier and there will be less death.”

River Runs Pink

Stretch chairs the River Runs Pink 5K run/walk in Natchez, which drew approximately 150 people earlier this month, she said. The funds raised are divided to benefit the Susan G. Komen, a foundation for cancer research, and to provide free mammograms in Natchez, Stretch said.

Stretch participates in many breast cancer-related events throughout the year, she said, adding it’s a lifestyle that is promoted in the River Runs Pink’s motto “Give, Love, Run.”

“Give support, show love and run,” Stretch said. “I usually start around April and just got finished, and we’re very thankful to our good supporters.”

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