Two breast cancer survivors gave testimony Monday on how friends and family members can often make a key difference in preventing and overcoming the disease.
Jimmie Jones and former state Rep. Josetta Wilkins spoke at the Pine Bluff School District’s second annual Go Pink for the Cure Day luncheon at the district’s central office. Wilkins, the keynote speaker, was the author and lead sponsor of the Arkansas Breast Cancer Act of 1997, which has provided over $71 million for education, mammography, diagnosis, treatment and research, according to a luncheon program.
Jones learned of her cancer on Aug. 18, 2007, and soon contacted Wilkins — who would become one of her closest friends — for information and support. Jones underwent successful surgery less than three months later.
Afterward, she endured four chemotherapy treatments while working in her teaching job and caring for her mother. Determined to recover quickly, she said she didn’t take a single one of the 100 anti-nausea pills given to her as she underwent 38 rounds of radiation treatment.
“Prayer kept me going,” Jones said. “God puts people in your path to help you when you’re ill. Cancer was a blessing for me. It helped to put things in perspective.”
Her advice to those who encounter the disease?
“Keep the faith,” she said.
Wilkins’ cancer was diagnosed in 1993, just two years after her husband — state Rep. Henry Wilkins III — had died of cancer. Her immediate reaction was to scream.
“Nothing scared me more,” she said.
But it wasn’t long before Wilkins received the “medicine” she most needed.
“My family came to my rescue,” she said.
Switching gears, Wilkins went into a teaching mode and encouraged audience members to do the same.
“Talk to people,” she said. “Bring about awareness.”
Lack of awareness is more of a killer than breast cancer, she said.
“You have to be sure,” she said in urging those questioning their health to receive more than one medical opinion and stressing that breast cancer is 96 percent curable if detected early.
She also noted that breast cancer strikes men as well, although women are much more likely to develop the disease.
She bemoaned findings that minority women have a 33 percent higher death rate from breast cancer, saying barriers to contesting the disease include fear, misinformation, inadequacies in health care and awareness of family health histories. She said persons can help to prevent breast cancer by educating themselves, remaining alert to body changes and implementing lifestyle alterations.
Julie Bridgforth, director of physician recruitment at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, said physical fitness can greatly reduce the risk of acquiring breast cancer. As little as 90-150 minutes of exercise per week can lower the risk by nearly 20 percent.
Bridgforth said persons shouldn’t allow financial or time challenges to interfere with their health care. State and JRMC funding is available to help women meeting certain financial criteria obtain a mammogram.