Diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, a devastated Judy Gentles yearned for a shoulder to lean on for support.
Referred to The Olive Branch of Hope (TOBOH) by a family member, Gentles found the brace she need to negotiate the challenging period in her life.
The TOBOH was established in 2001 to provide encouragement, support, telecare and referrals for Black women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Just being around cancer survivors gave me hope,” said Gentles, who has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. “I needed that support and the women in that group kept me strong.”
Ever since her diagnosis, Gentles has participated in the TOBHO annual walk-a-thon, now in its 12th year.
The organization’s major fundraiser nets an average $20,000 annually.
“Our walk is different to the big cancer charity fundraisers like the Run or Walk to Conquer Cancer to support the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation,” said TOBOH co-founder, Leila Springer, at last Saturday’s walk at G. Ross Lord Park. “Most organizations do their walks or runs to raise funds for research, but the needs in our community go beyond research which is good.
“When I think of my own diagnosis, the type of chemotherapy that I got was good at the time. Now, they don’t give it to humans anymore because it’s toxic. So I am grateful for the research that’s been done. In our community, the women that come to us are in need of financial help. The money we raise from this event goes to that and also for the essential educational programs that we provide.”
Claudette Miller, a provincial government administration and planning manager, has been a walk-a-thon participant for the last six years. Her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago at age 31.
“When she told the family, we were shocked because none of us had experienced something like that before,” she said. “I knew Leila and co-founder Winsome Johnson, who are survivors and I thought they would be the best people to talk to my sister and provide the kind of support she needed at the time. I also figured that taking part in the walk could help raise awareness.”
Life changed drastically for Springer after she was diagnosed in 1999. Though floored, the mother of two and former World Breast Cancer Foundation president lifted herself off the canvas and has become an outspoken advocate for women battling the disease.
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.
By RON FANFAIR