Voices from Africa

I’m a 23-year breast cancer survivor, retired Texan, high school teacher, wife, mother of 2 wonderful adult kids and Nana to two precious grandchildren.  I am also the Founder of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA) Inc. The BCIEA serves low-income communities in Texas and more so In Rwanda, East Africa.I retired on my doctor’s advice because I was doing two stressful jobs and he advised that it was in my best interest to drop one. I was forced to opt for fighting breast cancer with awareness/education and also honor my sister killed by breast cancer who lived in Africa and had no clue what Breast Cancer was.  She did not have an oncologist or cancer services to rescue her.  Her expensive airlift to a London Hospital and the emergency surgery didn’t save her.

I retired on my doctor’s advice because I was doing two stressful jobs and he advised that it was in my best interest to drop one. I was forced to opt for fighting breast cancer with awareness/education and also honor my sister killed by breast cancer who lived in Africa and had no clue what Breast Cancer was.  She did not have an oncologist or cancer services to rescue her.  Her expensive airlift to a London Hospital and the emergency surgery didn’t save her.  Cancer had metastasized to her liver and she was gone.I escorted her body home to Africa. It was a horrifying 23-hour journey that completely changed my life. My sister left behind two daughters – five and twelve

I escorted her body home to Africa. It was a horrifying 23-hour journey that completely changed my life. My sister left behind two daughters – five and twelve year old. How was I going to face them, their father and my parents? To add pain to my injured heart, when I attempted to bring her five-year-old baby girl back with me to USA, the USA embassy wouldn’t give her a visa. This was in 1986 at the peak of breast cancer awareness in USA and beyond.

The trauma and pain of losing my sister drove me into the world of breast cancer with indescribable vengeance. I had to learn about this monster that took my sister away. I became one of the “at risk” due to family history, so I was monitored closely.  I had the fortune of living in America, with all the health necessities, infrastructure and skilled manpower and higher chance to survive than my counterpart in Rwanda.

In 1994, I received my diagnosis, Unlike my sister, I was informed. I had everything going in my favor. My cancer was detected early and I survived. I had chemotherapy with all its horrendous side effects, double mastectomy, reconstruction with all its trials. But thankfully, I survived!

Instead of celebrating, I was troubled by a gnawing question within my heart. “Would my sister be alive if she lived in USA? Does where you live determine if you live or die?”

My sister’s story, representing poor and so many African women and my own survival, combined to birth BCIEA Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit, dedicated to fight breast cancer through awareness, education, empowerment, research and support. BCIEA was registered in Texas in 2008 and 2009 in Rwanda. Armed with a new lease on Life, -with all the desire and passion only peculiar to a survivor – I know I am to go out and change the World. Yes, it has been an uphill journey for us, but we can never give up.