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Personal Reflections on Surviving and Thriving with Breast Cancer

I’m not often at a loss for words, but one of the few times was on July 2, 2003, when my doctor called to tell me I had breast cancer.

Another was in July 2012, when my younger sister, Patricia, told me she’d also been diagnosed with this dreaded disease.

My sister and I always joked that she was the one with “the good hair.” While my own cancer diagnosis was one of disbelief, knowing she would lose her beautiful curly locks to chemotherapy hurt as badly as if someone had punched me in the stomach.

The experiences we’ve shared have made me twice as determined to use my voice to raise awareness and empower women to take charge of their health.

Ladies, Get Your Mammogram

Whether or not this disease runs in your family, when it comes to breast cancer prevention, knowledge is a big part of the battle.

It’s why I can’t say this enough times: Ladies, get your mammogram.

Yes, getting a mammogram is what I can only describe as an “experience.” Every time I feel like I’m holding my breath until my doctor gives me the results, but it’s better to know than to play the “What if?” game — What if I hadn’t gone at all?

Catching breast cancer early increases your chances of survival. It doesn’t make it any less scary, but I’m amazed at how in the 14 years since I was diagnosed there are so many new life-saving treatment options available.

Laughter Can Be the Best Medicine

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, the information and advice that comes your way can be overwhelming. Here are some words of encouragement I can offer from my own experience:

You are not alone. This is the first and most important thing to know. My own determination to survive was driven by my focus on helping others going through the same experience.

Give yourself permission to laugh. We took a stuffed toy frog with us to each of my sister’s chemo treatments. As women of faith, our F.R.O.G. reminded us to Fully Rely on God, and helped us remember that laughter can be the best medicine, even through difficult times.

Let the stories of others lift you up. I’ve been blessed to share my story many times over the years. I recently contributed an essay to the newest version of The Pink Sister Chronicles, a collection published by Traci’s BIO (Beautiful Inside and Out), a Philadelphia-based nonprofit helping breast cancer survivors not only survive, but thrive.

Find a Sister, Be a Sister

Women with breast cancer are part of a universal sisterhood, and we’re lucky to have so many wonderful organizations offering education and support in the greater Philadelphia region.

Just a few of the organizations I’ve been proud to work with are Living Beyond Breast Cancer, which connects people with trusted information and support services, and the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation, an Independence Blue Cross Foundation grant recipient providing free mammograms for low-income women.

If someone you love is battling this disease, it’s easy to feel powerless about how you can help. A simple way to turn your grief into good is to volunteer at nonprofits like Traci’s BIO, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and Linda Creed that rely on individual contributions.

You can also offer comfort someone with the words that gave me strength daily. Remind her that when someone asks, “Are you OK?” she can answer with conviction: “No, but I will be.”


Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake, MGA

Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake is president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation (Foundation), leading strategic, programmatic, and operational efforts to fulfill the Foundation’s mission to lead sustainable solutions that improve the health and wellness of the community. While overseeing grant-making work for the $90 million Foundation, Marshall-Blake steered the Foundation to be a collaborator, innovator, convener of diverse organizations, and thought leader in addressing emerging health needs in southeastern Pennsylvania.