“The test results are in and both of the lumps tested positive showing malignancy. You have breast cancer.”
Hundreds of women around the world hear these words daily from their physicians.
Though floored after being diagnosed in 1999, Leila Springer refused to allow cancer to be a death sentence. She lifted herself off the canvas, dusted off, beat the disease and became an outspoken advocate for women battling the scourge.
Recognizing that breast cancer is the leading cause of death among middle-aged women, she has developed a passion for helping those afflicted with the disease in Canada’s Black community cope with distress and the crises associated with cancer.
The co-founder of The Olive Branch of Hope (TOBOH) which inspires and motivates cancer patients, Springer recently launched her first book, So Glad I Made It: Finding and Fulfilling My Life’s Purpose After Breast Cancer.
“I started to write this book just after I was diagnosed,” said Springer. “I did it because I want my three children and five grandchildren to have a record and understanding of what the experience was like. While in my greatest pain, I began to write not knowing that one day it would become a book. The first part of the book is written through intense pain and may not be in any particular order. I have not changed anything, preferring to leave the reader to capture the moment as it was being experienced.
“This book is not meant to be politically correct. It is intended to tell the story from diagnosis and setting out on a roller coaster ride of pain and trauma and gradually moving to the pinnacle of health and purpose. This is truly my personal story.”
Springer and six other women founded TOBOH in 2001 to provide encouragement, support, telecare and referrals for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I was diagnosed, a nurse gave me a large binder and told me to read it,” said Springer. “There was nothing in that package that related to women of colour. Back then, few people even knew how breast cancer affected women of colour because, at the time, the research that was done took place from a perspective of White women. Things have, however, changed in many ways.”
When Springer learned her screening mammogram was abnormal, she endured two nervous weeks before it was confirmed she had breast cancer. The former World Breast Cancer Foundation president underwent surgery three weeks later followed by more lengthy time lapses prior to chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
With the launch two years ago of an ultra-modern breast cancer centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, patients receive diagnostic tests in 24 hours and advanced clinical care. The Louise Temerty Breast Cancer Centre, which will provide tailored care to thousands of patients, is the largest in Canada and features expanded areas of specialized clinics, integrated imaging research and clinical trials.
Revivaltime Tabernacle Worldwide Ministries leader, Dr. Audley James, wrote the book’s foreword.
“We can all take a page or two from this book to help us move life’s setback to a good comeback, from fear to faith in God, from sickness to divine health, from despair to hope and from pain to purpose,” he wrote.
The book launch was done at the TOBOH awards gala, where Dr. Javaid Iqbal addressed a new study led by Women’s College Hospital that reveals that Black women have a higher risk of death seven years after being diagnosed with stage one breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic White women and other major ethnicities.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found Black women were less likely to be diagnosed with early stage breast cancer next to non-Hispanic White women, but more likely to die of breast cancer with small-sized tumours.
Researchers analyzed the medical records of 373,563 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 2004 and 2011.
“Factors such as socio-economic status, diet and lifestyle and access to and use of health care and adherence to treatment may all play a role in the disparities among the ethnic groups,” said Dr. Iqbal.
Cell biologist and cancer researcher, Dr. Juliet Daniel and a small team at McMaster University, where she is a professor, are also looking at the inequality.
“We are using Nigerian, Barbadian and members of the West African population to see if we can identify some of the genetic biases that can be causing this disparity in breast cancer among Black women,” said Dr. Daniel. “I was at the annual American Association of Cancer & Research conference a few years ago and there was a talk about racial disparity of breast cancer in Black women. My interest peaked and I did some reading. While on research leave in 2011, I started looking into it in more detail.”
An estimated 24,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and about 5,000 will succumb to the disease. Nearly 14 women will die daily and one in nine is expected to develop the most common cancer among women during their lifetime.
TOBOH co-founder and breast cancer survivor, Winsome Johnson and retired Toronto Police Service deputy chief, Keith Forde – a long-time supporter of the organization – were honoured with Community Awards.
So Glad I Made It: Finding and Fulfilling My Life’s Purpose After Breast Cancer is available at www. essencebookstore.com. The price is $20. The e-book is also available on the Kindle Store, Kobo and the iBookstore.