By Kari HawkinsOctober 13, 2017
During the month of October, Angela Sims wears pink every day.
Except on the last day of the month, when she wears purple, the color of survivors.
Sims is a breast cancer survivor. To her and fellow survivor Karen Arthurs, pink is a fighter's color and the most appropriate color for October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Sims and Arthurs, who work for the Army Contracting Command-Redstone, are sharing the stories of their fight against breast cancer in hopes that other women - and especially their female co-workers - will heed their advice to get an annual mammogram; work to prevent the possibility of cancer through a healthier diet and exercise; and learn to become their own health care advocate if they do get diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
"No one thinks this is going to happen to them," said Arthurs, who is an ACC-Redstone Human Resources specialist.
"But, it's a known fact that 12 percent of the female population will get breast cancer. That's one in eight women. If you have federal insurance, even if you don't have insurance, you're worth every single bit of the time and effort it takes to have an annual mammogram."
Breast cancer happened to Arthurs in December 2015 when, exactly one year and one day from one mammogram to the next, one small tumor was discovered in her right breast. Her diagnosis was followed by surgery and 35 radiation treatments. She will continue six-month checkups with her doctor through 2020, when she will hit the five-year cancer free mark.
"For those of us who are Christians, going through this truthfully strengthens your faith in God and your belief that God's will is to be done," Arthurs said. "Faith in God pulls you through every day.
"They caught mine so very early. I have a friend whose cancer was found much later, and she fought breast cancer for 15 years before she died. She always gave me the strength to focus on healing. I never saw her defeated. Even to this day, she is in the forefront of my mind and held close in my heart."
For Sims, breast cancer happened in 2004, 10 years after she had fought and won a battle against cervical cancer that led to a hysterectomy. Being diagnosed with breast cancer left her angry and determined to fight even harder against a disease that threatened not only her life, but the wellbeing of her husband, and their 20-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
"I wanted to live for my husband and my children. I wanted to see my son finish growing up. He was three when I had my first cancer and 13 when I had breast cancer," Sims said. "I knew I could fight this evil thing in my body and that God was the only one who could cure me."
In 2014, when she turned 50, Sims celebrated 10 years of surviving the worst health scare of her life.
"My 50th birthday wish was to be cancer free, and I was. My husband gave me this pearl bracelet for my birthday with 10 pink pearls for each of the 10 years of being cancer free," said Sims, pointing out the bracelet of white and pink pearls worn on her left wrist.
Sims was living in Columbus, Georgia, where her husband was a Soldier at Fort Benning, when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. She told no one outside of her immediate family and walked out of the hospital on her own two days after surgery.
"I just couldn't stay in the hospital and let my children see me lying there on morphine," she said. "I wanted to go home and be busy and do things and be with my family. I went back to the hospital every few days to have my bandages changed."
After her fight against breast cancer, Sims used her experience to speak to women's groups and church gatherings about awareness and the importance of getting mammograms. She spoke at a family reunion in Selma where 500 people heard her story, and she became an ambassador for the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life.
In 2011, she and her husband came to Redstone Arsenal, where one of her first speaking engagements was at a breast cancer awareness event at Delta Sigma Theta sorority at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The event ended with the release of 100 balloons in honor of breast cancer victims and survivors.
"Being an African American woman, it's almost taboo for us to get mammograms," Sims said. "It's true that black women are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women. But, when we do get diagnosed, we are more likely to have larger tumors and are more likely to die from breast cancer. When I learn of someone who has gotten this diagnosis, I go to them and show them they can win this battle just like I did. If I survived, they can survive."
The American Cancer Society reports that white women have a 39 percent greater chance of surviving breast cancer than black women. In 2015, less than 20 out of every 100,000 white women with breast cancer died, while nearly 30 black women were killed by the disease. White women, however, have higher rates of the disease and die more often from it than Native American, Latina and Asian women do, the American Cancer Society reports.
Both Sims and Arthurs feel anxious and apprehensive every year as they come upon the anniversary of their breast cancer diagnosis - Sims in June and Arthurs in December. But, they lean on their families and stay focused on the gratitude they feel to have overcome the disease.
"On my first anniversary, my daughter brought me a bouquet of pink flowers with a pink ribbon around them and she called it my one-year cancerversary to remind me of what I had overcome," Arthurs said.
Both are also thankful for the doctors and nurses, and the care they received - Arthurs at Huntsville Hospital and Sims at Crestwood Hospital - and for the continued health support from the Breast Cancer Center and Clearview Cancer Center.
"When I got my diagnosis, I thought, 'I'm not ready to die. I want to spend more time with my children and grandchildren,'" Arthurs said.
"It became about what I can do to make myself well again, about what I can do to change my diet, learn how to exercise, so that my life is healthier. I'm not only living for myself, but for every woman who is going through the fight. People say cancer is a personal thing. No, it's not. Cancer is your opportunity to go out there and tell women that they are worth it. Every women is worth doing for themselves."
The tender scars that Sims and Arthurs carry with them are proof that they are survivors, and that they are strong and resilient.
"These scars are not a reminder of cancer," Arthurs said. "They are reminders that God healed us."