Cancer Survivors Celebrate at Campbell A.M.E. Church

Kyra O. Davenport | 11/3/2010, 3:19 p.m.
The rate of breast cancer is higher in Caucasian women than African-American women; however Black women continue to have higher mortality rates.

Information Provided During Services, Survivors Pinned

A Southeast church hosted a program recently to celebrate survivors of a disease that disproportionately affects the Black community. Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church hosted their first Cancer Awareness service on Sun., Oct. 31 for more than 60 congregants and members of the community.

The services included various speakers, poetry readings and a special ceremony designed to uplift the spirits of the newly diagnosed and celebrate those who have gone toe-to-toe with cancer and lived to tell the story.

"Breast cancer came to me as a surprise. No one in my family ever had cancer; I am truly blessed to be a survivor," said Juanita Wills, a spry senior and a member of Campbell A.M.E. Church.

The rate of breast cancer is higher in Caucasian women than African-American women; however Black women continue to bear the brunt in terms of mortality rates, according to a report published in The Oncologist, a monthly journal that tracks disease management.

Diane Dawson made it a point to attend the Cancer Awareness service. Like Wills, she also had a story to share with others.

"I am a survivor. [I] support my family members and [I] hope that the community will be aware of cancer and those affected by it," Dawson, 67 said.

The three-hour service got underway with Pastor Adrien N. Ngudiankama of Salem Gospel Ministries located in Silver Spring, Md. The speaker, an American Cancer Society representative, presented the facts to the congregation in the church's sanctuary. He reiterated one point on numerous occasions.

"Prevention is better than the cure," Ngudiankama said.

"Furthermore, there's a gap between African Americans and the knowledge of the disease. African Americans [are] less likely to see doctors and seek education [about] cancer."

Ngudiankama said that although cancer isn't a death sentence, it's best to try and head it off at the pass.

He shared a few important facts with the audience about the second leading cause of death in America.
Age plays a major role, he said. The older a person becomes -- their risk for the disease increases.

He also cited family history - individuals who may be predisposed or have a history of the disease in their families, run a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disease. The pastor also discussed lifestyle - which includes diet and exercise -- two major factors that can put individuals at-risk.

Throughout the service, survivors approached the podium to share their stories. However, one individual captured the attention of the crowd.

"I am a survivor," said Teri Ghaffaar to rousing applause from the crowd. "Wait a minute. I don't have cancer. I am a caregiver survivor. Caregivers get stressed. As a caregiver you must be a strong advocate.

A caregiver must be educated so that we [can] educate patients. We must endure for the patient and ourselves," Ghaffaar, 51 said.

"I want to see not only the American Cancer Society but all cancer related organizations get more involved with caregivers because if I'm stressed, how can I help the patients," she said.

The Reverend Daryl K. Kearney, the pastor of Campbell A.M.E. Church, said that he had one goal in mind once he decided to devote his entire Sunday service to this important health care topic.

"My overall aim was to inform the community [about] cancer, which is prevalent in the community and our families, and to speak truth to power," he said.

"I also wanted to give hope and inspiration to our survivors, and lastly, I wanted us to put our money where our mouth is by sowing a seed to the American Cancer Society for future research."

Cancer survivors received pins during the service to celebrate their victory over the insidious disease. The Rev. Kearney announced survivors' names and the types of cancers that they had defeated. Some among the crowd had even beaten two different forms of cancer.

The emotional pinning ceremony caused many seated in the pews to weep, clap their hands and praise God, while Hezekiah Walker's song, "I Need You to Survive" resonated throughout the church.

James Young, 68, and a member of Campbell A.M.E. Church, spoke candidly about his journey on Sunday. He's a survivor.

"I still have another chance at life and I'm going to extend my joy to others," he said with a smile.