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'It shouldn't be a secret' | Breast cancer survivor urges women of color to talk about diagnosis

Miss Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2020. Since that battle, she committed her life to encouraging others to talk about cancer to save more lives.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Miss Williams has always been a fighter, but it wasn't until June 2020 when she realized her new mission in life: encouraging women of color to talk about breast cancer.

If you ask Miss Williams to describe herself, she would say she's strong and a survivor, on top of being a daughter, grandmother, friend and Christian.

That fighting spirit always existed inside her, but a breast cancer diagnosis amplified it.

"I do feel like a warrior, yes, I do feel like a survivor," Williams said. "I feel like I can tackle anything in life now that comes my way."

Finding the cancer took her by surprise.

"I was at home and getting out of the shower and I felt a small BB size bump in my nipple," Williams said.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 6, 2020, had surgery on June 29, 2020 and finished treatment on Oct. 15, 2020.

"It was scary," Williams said. "It was really, really scary because at the time I was really healthy."

After losing a friend to the disease six years ago, she made her health a priority. She went to the gym five times a week and was in good shape.

"I thought I was on top of eating right, working out, going to doctor's appointments, but the year before I had missed my mammogram," Williams said. "I was scared. It wasn't that I didn't want to go, I was actually scared and I don't know why, but I was."

Luckily, she caught it early.

"Thank God I was stage one," Williams said. "DCIS is the name of the breast cancer that I had, so that means it was in the milk ducts. It never got into my tissues, so thank God for that."

Being diligent when she felt something wasn't right is something she encourages others to do too.

"My doctor was like, 'if you would have waited another year or two, we would have been having a different conversation about saving your life,'" Williams said.

She stood on her faith to get her through.

"I prayed that I was healed before I even knew I was healed, you know, just keep me strong and keep my mind," Williams said.

Recovery was rough, for a woman used to helping others as a CNA for decades.

"That was the hardest thing is to say, 'I need help,' because I've always taken care of everybody," Williams said.

Her support system lifted her up because she didn't keep her cancer quiet.

Credit: Miss Williams

"When I found that I was like, 'I'm not going to keep the people that I love in my community away from this story,'" Williams said. "It's real, you know, you don't realize it's real until it hits home."

She got involved with the nonprofit support group Breast Connect to educate herself and join together with other diverse fighters. Someone told her about a meeting Breast Connect was hosting, so she went, and joined the Facebook group.

"At first I was kind of weary because there wasn't a lot of people that looked like me," Williams said.

William's and Breast Connect's goal is to diversify the breast cancer support community, so as many women can get help as possible.

"I invited some more girls, and they wound up showing up," Williams said. "So we had a good conversation, and I learned a lot."

She wants to turn the breast cancer conversation away from being taboo. She knows women of color are more likely to die from the disease.

Credit: Miss Williams

"This is my purpose," Williams said. "This is why I'm here. I know that God saved me to be here to reach out to women to let them know it's okay. You don't have to be a secret. Breast cancer is not a secret. It's something we've got to face head-on, you know."

No matter how much time passes, she will keep repping the pink and encouraging others.

She urges women to do their self-checks and get their mammograms. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s.

She believes the starting age for mammograms should be lowered since so many more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer sooner now.

If you are interested in learning more about Breast Connect, visit breastconnect.org. If you are a breast cancer fighter or survivor, you can join the Facebook group here.

Breast Connect President Nina Reineri said that since Komen East Tennessee dissolved, Breast Connect hopes to fill in the gaps in education and support.

If you are interested in helping or sponsoring the organization in its initiatives, please call Nina Reineri at 865-310-1505.