This is probably the most difficult subject I will ever talk about. It is every single time, and I am sure it will never get any easier. Breast cancer took the lives of my aunts Aline and Joy, and my Granny Sue is a 5 year breast cancer survivor. I have seen first hand what this disease does to a woman's body and spirit, and what it is like to be a loved one watching those you care about the most in the world have to endure it. I promised my Aunt Joy in October 2013 in her last days that I would share her message of her fight against breast cancer. It was our dream together that this horrible disease would be a thing of the past and pink ribbons would only be used for hair bows. I truly feel like every time I speak to an audience that I've made a difference, and that I've honored my promises to her. That alone is such a heartwarming and fulfilling feeling.
The biggest honor I have ever received was being invited to be the guest speaker and entertainer for the 2014 Susan G. Komen's "Tickled Pink" luncheon as Miss White River. There were well over 500 people in attendance celebrating our local survivors and receiving the grants from funds raised through the Texarkana Komen chapter. Tears still come to my eyes as I think of all the beautiful women standing up on stage exclaiming that they had fought the battle and won! I love every opportunity I have to speak about my family's stories, but because many of those in attendance know my family personally, it was especially touching to us all. I'd like to share my speech in hopes that you can see this is more than a pageant platform to me. It is my dream to spread this message across my great state as Miss Arkansas 2014, but is important to me that everyone knows that win, lose, or draw this is a lifetime mission for me, and I will not stop fighting.
Donna Harrison- a breast cancer survivor and committee member for Susan G. Komen
Terri Arnold- Susan G. Komen Executive Director
Sue Johnson- my Granny Sue! She is a five year breast cancer survivor and was one of the models!
I performed Martina McBride's "I'm Gonna Love You Through It'
Speaking on stage to over 500 people
Experiencing this incredible honor with my Granny Sue is a priceless memory!
Jean Ham- a good friend and breast cancer survivor
My precious Nana and Pawpaw- two of my biggest fans!
My sweet friends with ALT Magazine- Debbie Brower, Jaclyn Gooding, Lindsey Gordon, and Charlie McMurphy
"Thank you so much for this incredible honor. I am so excited to be here today! I have been involved with Susan G. Komen Texarkana since I was 13 years old volunteering at the race and singing for the survivors. This year I have enjoyed speaking and entertaining at many events including the High Tea at CHRISTUS St. Michael’s as well as the Women’s Breast Health Exhibition, but I have to tell you Tickled Pink will be the highlight of my year!!
I love that I get to be here with my Granny Sue Johnson. I have always looked up to her. She’s one of the most kind-hearted, hard working people I know. She is also a big reason why I chose to go into nursing school. Granny Sue is here today celebrating 5 years of being cancer free! She will also be modeling and strutting her stuff! Getting to share this experience with her is so very special to me.
So thank you for having me here today!
I am Miss White River and I will be vying for the title of Miss Arkansas this summer, and hopefully Miss America in September. Part of competing in the Miss America system includes picking a platform or critical issue to promote in your community that is important to you. My platform is “Think Pink: Breast Cancer…You’re Never Too Young”. I speak to women and men in the community about the importance of being aware of breast cancer and the importance of being an advocate for your own body, dispelling the myths that cancer only affects women over the age of 40. I also enjoy promoting my program “Oh the things you can do that are good for you” that I present to elementary school students focusing on the importance of forming healthy eating and exercise habits to better prevent against chronic diseases including breast cancer.
Today, that is not what I want to speak to you about. I don’t want to rattle off statistics, that I’m sure many of you have heard before. I want to tell you why this is more than platform. Why it’s my passion. Why I care. I’m going to tell you my family’s story.
I first heard the term “breast cancer” at the tender age of six. My aunt Aline was diagnosed in 1996. She had noticed a bruise on her breast and felt that she looked a little yellow, but decided to wait until after her family vacation to go to the doctor. When Aline spoke to her physician, she got the news that she had breast cancer and it was quite advanced. Despite chemo and radiation, in less than a year, on May 28, 1997, my Aunt Aline passed. I didn’t go to her funeral. My grandmother didn’t want me to go through that. I didn’t know what to do. My mom and I called her house over and over just to hear her voice on the answering machine. We were all left with a lot of “what ifs”. What if she had gone to the doctor sooner, what if she had been more aware of breast cancer, would that have changed anything? We’ll never know.
Several years later in 2004 my aunt Joy went for her mammogram. She just felt that something wasn’t right. Her physician told her “It’s nothing to worry about. It’s just mastitis, you’re fine.” Well Joy wasn’t happy with that answer. She understood she knew her own body better than anyone else. With that conviction, she went and got a second opinion. That is when she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. This specific type of cancer is the most severe as well as the hardest to detect. From the beginning, my aunt Joy and her team of doctors at Texas Oncology at Baylor fought back with everything they had. She did countless rounds of chemo and radiation. Anything they told her to do, she did.
Some of you may have known Joy. She was very fixy. There’s not a day in my life that I ever saw her not dressed to the T. Her makeup was flawless, her hair was perfect- she slept at just the right angle with her face down in the pillow so she could breathe, but not rustle a hair out of place! And she had the best style of anyone I’ve ever met. I bet she paid for both Gayle’s and Skybelles!....But I saw cancer take her hair, her eyelashes, her eyebrows, and when her doctor said it was best, both of her breasts. As I woman I can’t imagine the turmoil that put her through, but she did it.
And treatment was successful! We were all so happy for Joy!! She fought and she won!!! After that she participated in Race for the Cure and told many people her story. She showed me the scars on her chest telling me she “didn’t need those old things anyway.” One year, she was the New Balance Survivor. This just so happened to be the year that the train blew up and the race was cancelled downtown. She was so upset!! We laughed and laughed saying she never got her moment in the spotlight!!
At this point, as a family, we truly felt like we had it all figured out. Joy was an advocate for her body. She didn’t accept just one doctor’s answer. She researched and made sure for herself. She did everything right and by the book. Maybe if my Aunt Aline had done the same thing things would’ve been different.
Joy went back to Baylor year after year and kept getting a great report…until 7 years later in 2011, they gave Joy the devastating news that the cancer was back. Not only back, but back in her liver. We couldn’t believe it. They say after 7 years in remission, you should be in the clear. Why did this happen?! What did she not do?! She did everything!!
While we were mad at the world for being unfair, Joy picked up her pink boxing gloves and got ready to fight again. Once again we watched her go through the pain of chemotherapy. But we all just knew she was going to make it!! She beat it once and she would beat it again!! She seemed to be doing great. She was the same witty, fun, beautiful aunt Joy.
Looking back, it seems like time flew in a blink of an eye. She gave it everything she had, but on July 11th, 2013 Joy was put on hospice. It didn’t seam real. She didn’t look like what I thought a typical hospice patient should look like. They were wrong. She was going to come out of it. But as the weeks progressed, Joy changed. Used to you could say three little words, “let’s go shopping”, and she’d be out of the house and in Dillard’s before you could get your shoes on. But she no longer wanted to leave the house. The cancer drained her. She was physically and emotionally exhausted.
At the end of September, we were told it was almost time. We all went to visit her and would sit around her bed and talk and laugh. I know she loved it. My whole big crazy family there. Those are some of my favorite memories and she loved everyone being together.
The hospice nurses would come by and tell us it would only be a couple of hours and we would all cry and say our goodbyes, then all of a sudden, Joy would pull through for a couple of more days. This happened a couple of times. If you knew Joy, this was typical. She did things on her own time and in her own way. But as much as we all hoped and prayed it wouldn’t, Joy left us the night of October 6, 2013.
From that second on, the world just hasn’t felt the same. To put it simply, there’s just not as much Joy.
I know people meant it in the most supporting way by saying “at least she’s not suffering anymore. She’s in a better place.” But to be honest, I hated that response. Joy did not want to leave!! She told us she wasn’t ready. When my great-grandmother was getting ready to die, she started sending everything home with us from the nursing home. When she sent her Bible home, we knew she was ready. Joy was not given this luxury!! Joy was taken from all who love her!! Cancer robbed her of everything!! She did everything right!! She was in remission for 7 years why did this happen?! But that’s when I had to stop and think
THIS IS NOT JOY’S LEGACY. THE CANCER DID NOT WIN. When Joy was first diagnosed in 2004, she survived because she was an advocate for her own body. She knew that she knew her body better than anyone, and got the second opinion. She trusted her doctors and put on her pink boxing gloves and did anything they told her to do. I remember asking her during treatment, “how do you keep doing this?” She responded with “You just do what you gotta do”. She went out and lived her life and enjoyed it to the fullest. She refused to let this disease define her or keep her down.
It took time for me to realize that Joy did not lose. It is because she fought and BEAT cancer we had those seven precious years. In those seven years she saw her youngest grandson, little Gary, come into the world. Joy spent extra years with her husband, kids, and grandkids. We all got 7 years of holidays that we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. And for that, I am grateful. I know many families whose loved ones have been one of breast cancer’s many victims cannot say the same thing. I wish I had seven more years with Aline.
I have seen how much progress the medical community has made thanks to breast cancer awareness and research in only the last 18 years since my Aunt Aline was diagnosed. We have gotten so much better at detecting and treating breast cancer, and men and women in our community are much more aware!! I just know Aline’s story would’ve ended differently if she had been diagnosed today. I have seen with my own eyes the difference the money raised has made and where the research has taken us!!
One afternoon it finally clicked. This is Joy’s message: DO NOT GIVE UP. Know your body and be aware! Share your story and make your mark on the world. Realize the progress we have made in fighting breast cancer and be a part of the movement to continue in that progress. Live you life to the fullest, and always put on those pink boxing gloves and fight. But most of all, don’t let the cancer fool you. WE ARE WINNING!!!
It is time for a cure!! And I believe whole heartedly we are almost there. I’m ready for the day when not another soul has to suffer- not a patient, not a family member, due to breast cancer. But until that day comes, I will keep my promise I made to my Aunt Joy. I will continue to share her story. I will continue to fight for a cure. I will keep on keeping on until breast cancer is just a thing of the past and Pink ribbons go back to being used for hair bows.
I appreciate you all being here today to Tickled Pink!! I love you all. "
I hope you enjoyed my speech!! As always, thank you for stopping by.