As a sneak peek of this Saturday's Mammogram Party at Washington Park, we're sharing the story of three survivors who will be featured at the big event. Read on to see how they went from surviving breast cancer to thriving and on a mission for educating others.
Dr. Kareem Moncree-Moffett
With a mother, grandmother and great aunt who had suffered through breast cancer, Dr. Kareem Moncree-Moffett knew to do her regular self exams, even in her early 30s. Thankfully so, because during one of those exams, she found a lump.
"I found my own lump doing a self exam and was too young to get a mammogram and the insurance wouldn’t pay for it back then even with my family history. My doctor at that time was extremely persistent and felt it and told me to just go get the mammogram and she would figure out something about how to code it, so I did," Moncree-Moffett recalls. "During my very first mammogram I was in the office for about two hours and a 30-minute procedure. All I remember hearing my surgeon say, with tears in her eyes, is that after all the tests she believed that I had cancer."
At age 33, she was diagnosed with Stage Three Breast Cancer. "I was recently divorced and a mom of three young boys at the time," she says. "It all seemed so overwhelming. The surgeon kept talking and I just remember she sounded like the adults on the Charlie Brown cartoon - she made no sense. I opened the door to leave the small exam room and the nurses were tearful and the receptionist had been crying. It was crazy, but I still remember this like yesterday. The faces, smells, hugs all of that."
She went through aggressive chemotherapy as part of her treatment plan. "Called a red devil, which was appropriate," she says. "I also had a hysterectomy, or I'd face a possible reoccurrence. So, needless to say 2005 was a very stressful year. But now, I stand here as a thriving survivor with a story to share."
Twenty years later, Moncree-Moffett is an elected Cincinnati Public Schools board member and Founder and Director of a non-profit, Youth Lead Alliance which convenes youth serving organizations in a non competitive space to create systemic changes for young voices in Cincinnati.
She's also passionate about spreading the word, and being a shining example, of how early detection can save lives. "I’m involved because I’m not alone," she says. "There are many more women like me who are daughters, sisters and mothers who may share parts of my story as well."
Moncree-Moffett says her diagnosis most impacted her boys. "I’m working hard now to support young voices who are impacted by a mother who has health issues like cancer. My boys share with me now that they didn’t feel supported as boys dealing with a mom with cancer. We had an excellent support system but there wasn’t much school support except for their teachers that knew," she explains. "There aren’t support groups for black boys experiencing this trauma and there aren’t many children’s books for little ones so my sons and I are working on that. This is traumatic for our students and awareness is key along with communication skills for them and their parents. I want to help and sharing my story is one way to do that. Everything helps no matter how small."
She says her advice is to reach out to others. "Fight the urge to withdraw inside. I promise there is someone who may share your journey or can empathize with part of it for sure. Communication is the key," she says. "I tell everyone, 'Don’t judge my book by the chapter you walk in on.' This is chapter 51 for me, but I’ve got chapters that have lots to share and you may never know by looking at me now. I’ve been on a wild journey and thank goodness I don’t look like it now. Anytime I can support another woman, mom, sister or daughter I think that’s my responsibility to do so."
The nightmare of breast cancer started with a dream for Eileene Douthard-Harris.
"I was awoken by a dream that I had of my mother telling me to get my breast checked. My mother had passed about 15 months prior to this dream," she recalls. "I tried to go back to sleep but I had the same dream but this time in the dream my mom pointed out to me which breast and the location."
She tried to get back to sleep, but got increasingly anxious about the unsettling, vivid and detailed dreams. She got up, and headed to work early. "I got to work, pulled in the parking lot and there was the mammogram bus," she says. "I took that as a sign."
After inquiring about an appointment on the bus, she was told they were full for the day but they had an appointment the following day. "That was the start of it all," she says. "I was first diagnosed with breast calcification, but after a second mammogram and biopsy, they confirmed it was cancer."
Her first surgery was July 18, 2012. Then, 10 days later for her follow up, she was told they needed to take out more around that area so her last surgery was in August. She started radiation, and that was completed in November of 2012.
"I didn't tell everyone in my family at first because I didn't want them to worry. Everyone thinks when you hear the word 'cancer,' you're dead," she shares. "I had a team of female physicians at the Barrett Center that took very good care of me."
But now looking back, Douthard-Harris' advice is to not go through it alone. "The most important thing is having faith and trust in God, an awesome team of physicians and also having someone that had went through the same thing supporting you and explaining everything to you," she says.
Crystal Arnold had lost her grandparents and aunt to cancer, so when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, she expected the worst.
"I experienced an overwhelming feeling of fear, anxiety, and anger," she says. "This was the most difficult news that I ever received. It was a hard reality to initially accept."
Arnold says the hardest struggle was telling her parents. "I did not want them to know – I did not want them to experience the pain that I was feeling," she recalls. "My emotions were in great turmoil. I wanted to live. I wanted to be comforted. I wanted to fight this disease, but I did not know how. I had to come to terms with my mortality. After six months of intensive chemotherapy, biopsies, and a mastectomy which I described as, 'losing the key part of my femininity,' I felt I lost everything, but I gained so much more."
Despite the chemotherapy treatments, she was determined to enjoy life to the fullest. "I tried to keep myself busy by returning to the things I loved to do; but never had time to do them – drawing, playing my violin, and dancing," she says. "I bought some art supplies and would draw and paint when I felt strong enough. I would attend belly dancing classes... and go to my favorite restaurant, Cracker Barrel."
Arnold says that before her diagnosis, she assumed that she would do those things she loved later because she had lots of life to live. "Most of my adult life involved contributing to the family as a wife and mother," she says. "I decided that even though I had a diagnosis of cancer, I will continue to enjoy life, and, I will live. I decided that I needed to do something for me; something I felt was fun, comforting, healing, and that I enjoyed."
She says enjoying her new-found hobbies and joys of life, coupled with her Christianity and family's support, helped her through this difficult chapter.
In July 2007, Arnold's sister Kim Lee Davis was diagnosed with Stage Four Breast Cancer. "I was again deeply angry and disturbed. I always believed that my sister would be with me forever. I was able to share my healing journey with my sister. It brought us closer together. She was my prayer partner, encourager, and best friend. But in March 2011, my sister lost her battle with the complications of breast cancer, and my life grew dimmer."
Arnold is determined to be a bright light to others, though. "When I think of prevention-focused health, I think about awareness of taking an active role and personal responsibility for one’s mental and physical health. Preventive-focus health does help. This includes attending health screenings and education on healthy habits and lifestyles that will protect an individual and their families from sickness and diseases," she says. "There are resources in our community, and we need to know where they are and how to get to them. We can easily shut down and not want to talk about cancer, but it is important that we share and receive emotional support from others who have experienced the trauma of cancer no matter what the outcome is."
Mammogram Party at Washington Park May 27
All three women, and their survivor stories, will be featured at the first-ever Mammogram Party at Washington Park, Saturday, May 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., hosted by Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).
"Join in for an energetic and fun-filled day of resources and activities for the whole family, including Zumba, kid's activities, prizes and, most importantly, breast cancer screenings and information," says Casey Fisher, CPS Community Learning Center Manager.
Mammograms will be offered at no charge to financially qualifying participants. Translation resources will also be available. To make an appointment for your mammogram screening, call: Tri-Health appointment line: (513) 569-6565 or Mercy Health (513) 686-3300 option #1.
Wondering when to start and how often to get screenings? Chris Swallow with the TriHealth Mobile Mammography Unit who will be there at the Mammogram Party, says, "We recommend annual screenings beginning at age 40, and once per year," she adds. "So as long as it's been 11 months since your last screening, you will be eligible to get a screening on the 27th."
For many women, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer, Fisher says.
"Once detected, treatment can start earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread, and provides a better chance of recovery," she adds. "In fact, Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer in the United States by 40% since 1990."
CPS’ health and wellness partners will provide food and resources while attendees can hear stories from survivors while gaining access to health resources from:
There will also be family-friendly activities, games, food samplings, Zumba, line dancing, music, and more. "It'll be an energetic, fun-filled day of resources and activities for the whole family," says Fisher. "We hope to see you there!"
For more information, call 513-363-0154 or click here.