My own personal breast cancer journey began in January 1998, after my annual mammogram. I received a call from my doctor with the devastating breast cancer diagnosis. I thought I had misunderstood and he repeated it again. My initial reaction was fear and tears. I knew I had to get beyond my fear.   

Somehow I gained strength to start thinking rationally. Trust me, this was not easy. I was a single mother with an ailing 94-year old mother, and two daughters—one in middle school and one away at college--all depending on me, and a full-time job. I knew I had to get a second opinion.  The next day, I went back to the hospital for copies of my medical records. I met an oncology nurse who told me about a breast cancer support meeting.  Four days later, I was with a group who were my angels from the very beginning to the end.  They gave me SO much help from day one – names of doctors, what they had been through, what to possibly expect, and an assurance that with each step I made that someone would be with me. This helped me make more informed decisions about my own treatment.

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Hello Franklin! - Vanessa Coleman

At this first meeting, I noticed that there was a lack of African Americans present in a group of almost two dozen.  Several of us decided that more needed to be done to engage more African American individuals into support groups like these. We all agreed that our churches would be a good place to start.

Our Goals:

  • To start educating ourselves about this disease

  • To share information about doctors, other breast cancer issues, and breast health issues

  • To be a support for each other during this battle

In 2000, our group of more than 50 women became a chapter of a national organization called the Sisters Network. Hence, we are now the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey. Our outreach program assists women with medical needs, mammograms, food, transportation, childcare, and various needs while going through treatment. Our most valuable help is our own experience. Our members say, “You did it and with God’s help and prayer, so can I.” 

What You Should Know:

  • This is a human disease – not just woman’s disease. Men get it too. I know some of you remember Shaft played by Richard Roundtree. He’s a breast cancer survivor, too.

  • Education and knowledge is the key to survival.  Talk to your doctor. Ask questions. It’s your health.

  • While Caucasian women have a higher rate of breast cancer diagnoses, African Americans women suffer from a higher death rate.

  • Start doing self-breast examines monthly.  It’s your body. Know it.

  • Women with a mother’s history of breast cancer, get your first mammogram 10 years before the age of your mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.

  • Women without a family history of breast cancer:

    • Do a monthly self-breast examine

    • Get an annual clinical examination by your medical doctor

    • Starting at age 40, get a mammogram annually

My Own Personal Experiences:

  • I watch my diet and try to keep it as green and lean as possible.

  • Stress less. 

  • Enjoy life, family, and traveling.

These key steps could save your life. I did them all and 19 years later, I’m here hoping that my story will at least help one person. 

Editor's note: These stories are part of a series written by staff members of Franklin Township. The stories will explore some of the wonderful places and faces that make up the community of Franklin Township.

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