The Journey – Living Cancer Out Loud – A Unique Theatrical Performance Showcasing the Stories of Black Breast Cancer Survivors

Phoenix, AZ – A unique performance showcasing the heroism and stories of Black breast cancer survivors, caretakers, and families anchors the Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer (CBBC) third annual celebration and report to the community. The performance takes place September 7, 2013, 5 – 8 pm, at the Black Theater Troupe, Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts, 1333 E. Washington Street, Phoenix.

“Through these inspirational stories, we will help educate and highlight the significant challenges Black breast cancer survivors face,” said Marion Kelly, director of community and business relations at Mayo Clinic. ”We hope that these profiles of courage will inspire and encourage those who may be face with a similar diagnosis. The personal relationships developed over the three plus years that the CBBC has been in existence is the fuel that continues my fire to education to our community.” Kelly is a co-founder of the Coalition of Blacks Against Breast Cancer along with Michele Halyard, M.D., vice-dean, Mayo Medical School – Arizona Campus.

The CBBC membership meetings take place the third Sunday of each month, 3 – 5 pm, at the Wellness Community, 360 E. Palm Lane in Phoenix. Anyone interested in learning more about breast cancer treatment, support, and care are welcome to attend. More information can be found at or by contacting Carla Gentles at 602.320.0502.

CBBC is the only group within the Phoenix Metropolitan area that specifically targets Black men and women of African descent diagnosed with breast cancer. The coalition is an initiative of the Phoenix Chapter of the Links, Inc., the Sigma Pi Phi Gamma Mu Boule, and Mayo Clinic. The CBBC was developed to bring education and awareness, to provide access to treatment, and to better understand health care disparities among African-American breast cancer patients.

Following are two stories of CBBC members, Gina Bowser, and Barbra Watson-Riley, representative of the stories that will be showcased during the September 7,, 2013 performance.

Gina Bowser’s Story

In August 1999 I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.  I am a 13 year survivor and an advocate for breast cancer awareness.  Here’s my story.

One evening while getting ready for bed I felt a lump under my arm. I decided to see a physician to look at it before my husband I left for vacation.  The doctor said it was just a lymph node and did not seem too concerned; he sent me for a mammogram.  I knew I had cystic breast and did not give much thought to it except for the lump underneath my armpit.  That was different.

During our vacation I begin having fearful thoughts about the lump and that the test results were not going to be in my favor.  I remember thinking “I am going to have a good time on this vacation because I don’t know what I will hear once I return home”.  I guess that was when I began living as if I were dying.

When I returned I hesitantly checked the voice messages.  There was a voice message from the doctors’ office asking me to call the doctor’s office as soon as possible.  I called the office; the voice on the other end said, “I am sorry Mrs. Bowser but we need you to see a general surgeon immediately.  You have an aggressive breast cancer.  We are sorry”.  Oddly I was not surprised by the diagnosis, the doubt and fear I had was now reality.  I called my husband to give him the news and later that day I called my family in Michigan to tell them I had breast cancer.

I went to see the surgeon; my husband accompanied me.  I had already made up my mind to have a mastectomy because of my experience with my father and his battle with colon cancer; I learned that physicians and tests can not always see all of the cancer.

The surgeon gave me all my options and showed me the x-rays.  It was stage 2 and a very aggressive cancer.  I had a mastectomy on the right breast, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction and other surgeries related to the breast cancer.  I felt I had to be strong, stay positive, and try to live as normal a life as possible; not just for me but for my family and friends.  I wanted to let people know that we can win this fight.

My husband; unknown to me, began researching the type of cancer I was diagnosed with and discovered information about a new unreleased drug that fit my diagnosis.  I called my oncologist and asked if this was significant information. He said, “I will check and call you back.”   I will never forget when I received his call; he said “I think you are going to be o.k.”  The information my husband had found was significant and the oncologist was able to incorporate this into the treatment plan.

Treatment began October 25th 1999, ironically my parents’ anniversary, and ended April 2000.  Six weeks of daily radiation treatments followed immediately after chemo with Tomoxifen taken daily for 5 years followed by another 5 years of Femara.

I thank God for preparing me for the diagnosis, and for my husband, who went the extra mile for me.  My journey was not easy but I survived.

In April 2012 my 75 year old mother was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.  No it is not hereditary; the Braca test was administered and the results were negative.  My mother, Delores did not have her lump examined until a year later.  She was “afraid” and hid it from me and the

family.  Even with the advanced stage of breast cancer diagnosis Delores is fighting for her life because she wants to live and be a witness for others.  I am proud to be her daughter.

Barbra Watson-Riley’s Story

In September 2011 I was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 2, triple negative breast cancer.  I found my lump three months after a clear mammogram.  My treatment began with chemo in an effort to reduce the lump.  After four treatments, I switched to a 2nd group of chemo meds.

A week into that treatment I noticed that my lump felt funny, and mentioned it to my doctor.  It turns out the tumor, which had been cut in half from the original chemo, was now growing back, and had regained its original size in 10 days.

I had an emergency double mastectomy the week of Christmas. On New Years, I had more surgery due to a hematoma.   After healing from surgery, I started more chemo. A week after 3 more rounds of chemo, I found more cancerous tissue, which led to a third surgery.  I started radiation within two weeks.  In my 5th week, I started to suffer from severe burns.  I completed radiation in May, and look forward to my final reconstruction.

I survived Life in the Cancer Lane thanks to my incredible husband.  He could teach a Master Class in care-giving!  My other soldiers in this fight were my daughter, my family and friends around the country who stepped in when I couldn’t be “mommy”, and of course, my excellent doctors.  Doctors who listened!

I have been a breast cancer advocate for over a decade.  I now have a more complete understanding of how this disease affects a family, a community.  I have a renewed excitement for working towards a “cure”, giving “cancer real talk”, and creating awareness by any means necessary.

I am a Survivor.  This is my story.