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2018 Calendar

2018 Calendar

Welcome to the 19th Annual Sisters’ Journey Calendar unveiling.
Thank you to all who have been on this journey with us advocating early detection
as a means to saving lives. It was so important to my mother that her community be
educated and aware about the horrific disease of breast cancer. And it has been
through our dedication and commitment to her vision that we continue to seek new
developments and ideas.

This year we are excited to share stories with you not only of 11 courageous
women, but also, for the first time, a breast cancer survivor’s story from a male
perspective. Over the years we have learned that men can also get breast cancer.
However, not until now have we found a man brave enough to tell his story – a
journey undertaken in tandem with that of his daughter’s.

The stories of Arnaldo and Vanessa Silva (Below) appear in the calendar months of
November and December. They also will be guest speakers at our 2017 Pink Tea. Their story is both touching and inspiring!

Vanessa And Arnoldo Silva 2018

Thank you to all our courageous 2018 breast cancer survivors for sharing their stories of hope.
Be Well,

Peace and Blessings
Dawn White-Bracey

Survivor Stories

Rachael Leftridge, January View My Story »

Rachael Leftridge

“Blessed beyond my comprehension!”

My name is Rachael Leftridge and I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer
at the age of 47. Triple “negative,” surely that couldn’t be bad. The word “negative” is a good thing, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, my theory was wrong. To my surprise, triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer in which there is no targeted or standard treatment. My only options were a combination of surgery, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Telling my children, my dad and my brothers about my breast cancer was the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. The first hardest thing I had to do was to bury my mother. She too had breast cancer. For years it had been in the back of my mind that I would not be able to escape this ugly disease – that someday I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. When my diagnosis was confirmed I was in total disbelief and became numb. However, after my pity party and quite a few tears, I went into survival mode. My faith grew bigger than my fear.

The night before my surgery, the beginning of my journey, I announced it on social media. I shared not for sympathy but for prayers of strength for my family, Team Rachael, and the surgeons; and also to encourage anyone else experiencing a life-changing situation.

My sister-girlfriend for over 40 years came from Maryland the day of my surgery. She spent every night with me at the hospital and accompanied me home. I can remember her asking me (which I think was in a sarcastic way), “Is there anything I can do for you?” It’s hard to allow someone to care for you when you are used to being the caregiver, and also used to being the rock.

My sisters near and far showed up and showed out in their own special way; I love them very much for all the love, support, and concern shown for my children and me. I had an amazingly kind and professional photographer who helped me to document my journey. The pictures he took not only captured faces but also captured the moment. I may have lost my hair and a little weight but I never loss my faith or my smile.

In so many ways my journey has been a blessing. My relationship with God has grown; I found me, I found peace and I’m living. I have a second chance at life and I’m making everyday count.

I didn’t escape breast cancer but I am a survivor!

Lynn Sistruck, February View My Story »

Lynn Sistruck

Greetings, my name is Lynn Sistruck and I am a two-time Breast Cancer Survivor. At age 38 I
watched a “bump” directly under my collarbone grow for approximately one year until it became
the size of a peach pit. There was no pain, no redness and no concern, as I thought it was a cyst.

One day while visiting my father (Mr. Willie Sistruck), he said to me, “Lynn, your money is falling
out of your bra.” I said, “Dad I do not have any money in my bra.” The lump was protruding
through my blouse! He called my mother (Mrs. Pamela Fewell of Marietta, GA) and she contacted
me, stating that I needed to have a mammogram performed ASAP. My immediate thoughts were:
No, impossible! The lump is too high and it can’t be! I then made an appointment at Yale-New
Haven Hospital to have a mammogram. It was 2007 and I was 39. I received a call informing me
that the mammogram revealed I had a tumor that could be malignant, and I needed to follow up
with a biopsy. After I received the biopsy results, I was told I had Stage 2 Invasive
Adenocarcinoma of the left breast with Her2+ present. I ended up having a left breast
lumpectomy, 33 treatments of radiation, and six different chemotherapy drugs. My treatment was
the very best of care that I could have ever received; I participated in a clinical trial spearheaded
by Dr. Kenneth Miller.

My mother rallied the troops! Although everyone within my immediate family lived in different
states, they all were assigned different tasks regarding my at-home care and attendance to all
appointments. I had the very best of family support that a woman “going through” could have
asked for. My friends were also on board in providing assistance and all the support needed
during treatment. This was when I was first introduced to Sisters’ Journey. God’s blessings!

In December 2012 I was watching TV and for no particular reason I felt my left breast and
realized there was a small lump the size of a green pea. By this time I had moved to Fayetteville,
NC. I called my mother and told her that I was going to schedule an appointment at Duke
University Hospital in Durham, NC. I learned my lesson that early detection is key! I also had
learned, with my mother’s help, how to pick the perfect team of doctors by checking their
credentials and listening to all the options that provide a positive outcome. This time I had a left
breast mastectomy and was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer – Ductal Carcinoma In
Situ and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Following the mastectomy, I also underwent a year of
chemotherapy.

In January 2017, I had a left breast reconstruction procedure called Diep Tram Flap, which
involved using the fat from my stomach, the skin, and arteries to recreate the breast. My
procedure had taken place at Smilow Cancer Hospital by Dr. James Grant Thompson.
Unfortunately, during the first 24 hours, my reconstructed breast “failed” and was immediately
removed. I am currently still healing from that procedure. And so my journey continues.

Today I am cancer-free and have been since 2014. I encourage all women to not diagnose
themselves when finding any abnormality in their bodies. There is no such thing as “I am too
young,” or “Breast cancer does not run in my family.” We need to understand that breast cancer
is not an automatic death sentence and when detected early the odds of survival are greater and
real!

Nina Ratliff-Williams, March View My Story »

Nina Ratliff-Williams

My name is Nina Ratliff-Williams. I am 63-years young and a 3-time cancer survivor! I am a native of New Haven, CT via Chesterfield, SC – the 5th of James and Juanita Ratliff’s 12 children. I have nine sisters and two brothers. My two daughters, Antwan (Danny, Jr.) and Tenisha (Reggie), have given me five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren whom I love dearly. I also have a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

My journey with cancer began with a history of having dense breasts from an early age. I’ve had many surgeries on both breasts, which ultimately lead to a double-mastectomy. My breast walls had always shown masses of cysts and tumors. I regularly performed self-breast examinations and whenever I discovered a lump, I would have it removed and tested. The results were always negative.

However, in September 2011, one of my discoveries wasn’t so “routine.” After the usual tests, my doctor recommended a bilateral ultra-sound, which showed something was different. Inside a sack located within my left breast was a mass that had not been observed before. My doctor recommended a biopsy to determine whether the mass was benign or malignant, but I requested it be removed immediately. The biopsy was performed and I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer known as Spindle Cell in my left breast. Since a mastectomy would be performed on my left breast, I requested a double-mastectomy. Given my history and due to the multiple biopsies performed on each of my breasts, I didn’t want to risk the cancer spreading to my right breast and having to re-live the process all over again.

On April 4, 2012, I underwent a double-mastectomy with silicone implants. Following the surgery, I was informed that I would need radiation therapy for 30 days. Little did I know the radiation would cause the silicone to leak, which resulted in an infection in my left breast. What an awful ordeal that was! During the summer of 2012, I had to use a pump to remove the infection from my system and in September 2012, I had the implants removed and a trans-flap procedure performed.

I was home for six months when depression seemed to get the best of me. At the time of my diagnosis I was married; however, my husband at the time could not handle my illness and the depression that came with it. We divorced in January 2014 after 17 years of marriage. Through it all, I thank God for sustaining me through that difficult time. What a long journey it was and still is! I have learned to lean and depend on Him. Looking back, I know it was God who kept me during that ordeal, as I prayed daily. He was my advocate. He was my rock, and I would call on Him because I knew He loved me unconditionally and would see me through it.

In January 2014, I had an emergency appendectomy. That was an extremely difficult time for me both physically and emotionally. It wasn’t just that I had to have another surgery, but it also brought back memories of losing my youngest grandson, Danny III “Dan Dan” after he had an appendectomy in April 2005. Following that nightmare, in July 2015, I underwent surgery for lung cancer. After a routine visit to my doctor, he ordered a CT Scan which identified yet another form of this horrible disease. I was fortunate not to require chemo or radiation therapy after that surgery. However, when which led to a diagnosis of Stage III Thyroid Cancer. Preparing for that surgery was the hardest thing I had to
do in my life. My family had just suffered the loss of my oldest sister, Margie, in September 2016, to pancreatic cancer and I was gearing up to have surgery just one week after we laid her to rest. While mourning such a devastating loss, we had to prepare for the unknown outcome of my impending surgery. The surgery to remove my thyroid was performed in October 2016. Following that surgery, my oncologist informed me that the radiation following the mastectomy had caused the subsequent lung and thyroid cancers.

I give thanks to God for my Job at Yale University where I will be employed 15 years on October 2017.
I appreciate the doctors and nurses who took very good care of me. I thank my manager, supervisor,
team leaders and coworkers for their support during my illnesses. I have returned to work and am
currently recuperating from the Thyroidectomy with lifelong treatment to stay alive.

While it has been an uphill journey, I know I do not battle alone. I am being used by God as a living testimony to share my story to anyone who faces any form of this terrible disease. I thank God for being Jehovah-Rophe, the God who heals, and Jehovah-Roi, the God who sees me. I am alive today to share what I have been through and I know my thanks is not in vain because He continues to keep, comfort and sustain me, even in my times of doubt and weakness, because He is the advocator for my life. He has been present in every operating room and guided every surgeon’s hand. He has made it possible for me to be here to act as a beacon of His light for anyone who stands in the need of encouragement.

I encourage anyone reading my story and going through a battle with cancer to fight, as well as pray, knowing that your faith is as strong as the work you put in to sustain your life. Stay strong, stay focused, continue to make healthy choices. Always seek to live and never let the illness dictate your actions. I am proof that you can survive!

E. Paulett Moore Rogers, April View My Story »

E. Paulett Moore Rogers

My name is Emma Paulett Moore Rogers and I am a breast cancer survivor. As I write this story, I await the results of a MRI I had after my annual mammogram. I decided after my second diagnosis of breast cancer that I will not live my life in fear of cancer returning but will live everyday that God Almighty has given me to it’s fullest. I do not plan to leave this earth saying “I wish I had.” Every opportunity to travel, help someone, learn something new or share my blessings, I will.

My journey began in February 2013. I had always gotten my yearly mammogram, especially since I have
dense breast tissue and had several cysts aspirated years earlier. This particular day I didn’t think much
about the nurse’s request to meet the radiologist, since I had many abnormal findings in the past. So, when
they informed me that I needed to have a core biopsy, I was calm, or so I thought until I hit the parking lot and the tears began to flow. I had the biopsy and was informed by my GYN several days later that I had
breast cancer, DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ), Stage 0 with Estrogen/Progesterone Receptors positive. I
was reassured that the cancer was detected very early and that my prognosis was good. I lived with those
words for a weekend, sharing only with my husband and very few friends.

Before making an appointment with the referred surgeon, I knew God not only was with me but also would orchestrate things for me. When I was informed on the first call to the surgeon’s office that she was
booked up for months, I calmly called my GYN for another referral. When I made the second call to the
same office but a different surgeon, the secretary (who knew nothing about me but my name), said “Wait, let me see what I can work out.” As I waited I whispered a quiet prayer thanking God already, for I knew He was working things out. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said fear not for I have this. At that moment I
surrendered myself to Christ and said I trust you with my life. Since speaking it I knew I had to believe it with my heart. Sure enough He proved it by giving me the greatest team of women doctors: Dr. Kaye Zuckerman, Dr. Andrea Silber and Dr. Joyce Chung. I had a right breast lumpectomy on March 21, 2013, and eight weeks of daily radiation at St. Raphael campus followed by a maintenance drug, Tamoxifen. My symptoms were mild and little or no side effects from the radiation, but I could not tolerate the Tamoxifen.

I can attest to the truth of the poem “Footprints.” With the support of my husband, family and friends, I was able to continue to work my part-time job, stay involved with my church and organizations and maintain my exercise routine. I know that during my treatment, God carried me through months of daily hospital or nursing home visits to a woman who meant so much to me and who I considered my mother, Hattie Turner. She was very ill and eventually died, but God gave me everything I needed to love her during her last days on earth and to carry on my normal schedule and complete that journey with my head up and a smile of thanksgiving on my lips in the way Hattie would want me to.

That journey prepared me emotionally and spiritually for my next bout with breast cancer in my left breast. After a left breast biopsy on July 28, 2014, I was facing breast cancer again, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1 with a positive HER2. My second lumpectomy with lymph nodes removed was on October 14, 2014, my husband’s birthday, who said he wouldn’t want to spend his birthday anyplace other than with his wife, even in a hospital room. I was informed that I would need 12 weeks of once-a-week chemotherapy (Taxol), 12 months of Herceptin (every three weeks), 12 weeks of radiation, and up to seven years of Endocrine therapy (Letrozole). My chemo started on Wednesday Dec. 3, 2014 at St Raphael campus in a small, warm and caring infusion room surrounded by a wonderful staff.

Anxious but confident of God’s presence, I went in with a smile and my knitting. I was welcomed into that
infusion room by the beautiful women who all shared their breast cancer stories and offered their stories of hope, which made my chemo experience much more tolerable. By the third week of chemo my hair was
shedding and I picked two of my friends, one who would keep my spirits up to go with me to have my Goldie locks cut and the other who would tell me the truth when I picked out my wig. They were part of my
support team – and what loving and encouraging support my husband, my family, friends near & far, church family, Sorors, and my community gave me. Even though I had every side effect of chemo and radiation, they all were mild symptoms that were manageable. I continually uttered words of thanksgiving to God Our Father for holding me up. I was able to continue my normal routine but at a slower and smaller pace. I finished chemo on Feb. 23, 2015. I had to stop the Herceptin treatment in Apr. 2015 because of damage to my heart. Through the trails, God again strengthened me and set a mission in front of me which became my spiritual support – Women’s Noon Day Prayer and Bible Study at Bethel AME Church. Each Monday, my Noon Day Prayer Sisters of Christ were my lifeline.

I learned so much through this journey. Most of all I learned that when you give to others with a grateful
heart, your blessings will return 10-fold. I love life more than ever and I give God the praise & glory for what He has done and continues to do in my life. I could not have done this without God and my loving husband, Peter Rogers. There are so many people who reached out to me that made this breast cancer journey more manageable. I was never angry, never questioned “why me,” never resentful, never felt sorry for myself because of how I went through this journey. I pray that someone can learn from my experience and grow stronger as a child of God. I have met some amazing people because of cancer. I am stronger. I am
better and I pray continually for all my breast cancer sisters.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulations, be constant in prayer.” Roman 12:1

Sharon Lawrence, May View My Story »

Sharon Lawrence

My name is Sharon Lawrence. I am married to a nice gentleman who has accepted me and my flaws unconditionally for the last 38 years. We have two daughters, two grandsons and a rambunctious two-year-old great-grandson. I am truly grateful and blessed for all of them.

You can never anticipate hearing three or four words that can change your life so drastically that it snaps you into a moment where time stands still. Beginning with “we saw something” or “need to repeat” or “It looks peculiar”; and the ending sentence being “you have cancer” or “It’s malignant,” stage something or other.

Thank God for early detection. I am a firm believer in annual checkups. Going for a mammogram is never pleasant, but I rarely missed scheduling one annually. However, in June 2012, I heard a combination of those statements mentioned above – for a second time. This (bleeping) centimeter (my pet name for it) was deep, not found by monthly self-examinations, nor did it truly reveal itself until after several “smashings”,
and then confirmed by biopsy.

When I received the official word from my doctor, I was at work. I didn’t want to be seen crying at my desk. Before a tear fell, I received a call from one of my closest friends to discuss our plans to attend a conference in Boston. We were leaving in two days and during the conversation, I broke down. She let me finish and asked if everything was okay. I repeated the news I had just received. She asked if I still
wanted to attend the conference. I said “yes” as it would take my mind off things.

I repeated the doctor’s message to my husband that evening. I really broke down and cried “why me, again” because four years and 2½ months prior, I had heard the words “it’s malignant, stage 3 and surgery.” But this time is was “Stage 1, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma” breast cancer. (The first time it was colon cancer.) I have no known family history of either, making these diagnoses even more upsetting.

My response, “why me” was followed quickly by, “God has my back.” I refused to worry about it again. Unfortunately, through a series of errors, I didn’t have the surgery until January 3, 2013. Who knew that the centimeter would necessitate a lumpectomy, lymph node testing and breast reduction! Finally, after 33 rounds of radiation, hearing “there are no signs of the cancer” was joy to my ears.

My breast surgeon, Dr. Helen Corbin, was phenomenal and my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Steven Smith, was more than pleased with his work; however, for me, going from busty to not so busty was not easy. I actually cried every day for the first month, mourning what I had lost. In the long run, I’m grateful for the loss and have gotten used to the new models. No one really noticed my loss. It is amusing to hear
people ask if I had lost weight, to which my reply was “yes I did” and in my head I chuckled, “about four pounds of boob.” But to hear the words, “all clear” or “no signs” or “we got it all and you should live a normal productive life,” was such a blessing, and what I lost is the reason for the blessing.

During this entire time, outside of my immediate family, I had shared this diagnosis only with a very limited number of friends and family. A few knew of only this diagnosis, even fewer knew of both. As far as they were concerned I looked healthy, was always in a good mood with no tell-tale evidence of any treatment: no loss of hair, no visible pain and no negative effect from the treatment. I was truly enjoying God’s gift of life despite what I was going through. During times like this, we sometimes forget that we are not the only ones affected. In hindsight, I realized that it put immeasurable pressure/stress on my caregiver who had no outlet, no one to converse with about his fears and feelings. I didn’t realize this at the time, because he never showed it or spoke of it. I didn’t realize until we talked a couple of years later that I took for granted that his faith and strength was being tested at the same time. He was and still is the best caregiver/support I could have as it not only created a tighter bond between us, but also allowed me the time and confidence I needed to feel comfortable with my body and my mind. I’m blessed that God put him in my life and I will be forever grateful, even if I don’t tell him.

It wasn’t until 2016, when I honored survivors at an organizational function that I decided to share that I too was a survivor. Imagine the silence in the room as I felt the opportunity was right and in tune with my closing message. Be kind to everyone, because you never know what they are going through. Sometimes just a kind word will do wonders for a person’s spirit.

2018 will mark my 5th and 10th years, respectively, of being cancer free. Only God knows the future. But for me…… live it up, drink it down, laugh it off, avoid the bull____, take chances & never have regrets. Pray not only because you want something but also because you have a lot to thank GOD for (and I do).

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