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Losing My Friend to Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Sophia Nelson lost her friend Francene Robinson to Triple Negative Breast Cancer on June 5, 2009. In this personal commentary, Nelson talks about her loss and why we have to do more than just wear pink ribbons this month.

Sophiabreastcancer.jpgSo often when we talk about breast cancer, we focus on pink ribbons, fundraising, and a cure for the disease. All of these things are important, but what I hope we will all spend more time focusing on is how we love and care for our friends when they need us.

The truth is when most of us think about breast cancer, we think of it as something that afflicts post-menopausal women past the prime of their lives. We see these women as aunts, mothers, or grandmothers who have the love and support of their families to help them get through it all. It’s even seen as somewhat expected.

I saw this play out keenly with my friend Francene Robinson who died of triple negative breast cancer on June 5, 2009 at the age 58. Now, I see this playing out yet again with my friend Venessa Bates, who is in her mid-50s and has just been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Both of these sisters are blessed with great husbands, a supportive community of friends and family and a legacy filled with love.

These women come from an era seemingly long gone where sisters and their husbands truly rally and take care of each other in time of need. In the last weeks of Fran’s life, I sat in awe at how her sister friends stepped up-many of them in the Links, Jack & Jill or in the Black Greek Lettered Fraternities. They had cleaning schedules, hospital visit schedules, meal schedules, and grocery rotations to make sure that Fran’s husband Henry and her two sons could continuously be by her side day and night. It was moving to me as a woman in my early 40s, who is not married and has no children.

The most glaring thing to me is how breast cancer is impacting and ravaging the lives of young black women. My dear friend Nicole McLean has been fighting breast cancer since she was in her late 30s and I learned of the loss of Sheryl Flowers (of the Tavis Smiley Group) who was only 42 (my age) to triple negative breast cancer in June. This October, we must consider and focus on those women who are fighting this disease under age 40 and who have no one to comfort them.

I am convinced that part of the reason Fran lived as long as she did is not because of the chemotherapy drugs, or the excellent care that Dr. Edith Mitchell, Medical Oncologist and Associate Director of Diversity for the Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia, provided her but it was because of the circle of love, prayers and support she received on a daily basis from her loved ones and her sister friends.

It is my hope that all of us who know a sister who is fighting breast cancer alone, will step up and reach out to her on a regular with cards, gifts, time, calls, food baskets, and the like and by doing so I promise you that you will prolong her spirit, her journey and her life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sophia Nelson. She is a contributor to theRoot.com, NPR, and Huffington Post. She blogs at Politicalintersectionblog.com and runs a sister organization called I Am My Sister’s Keeper/iask,Inc.