Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey
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Wake Up to the Reality of Breast Cancer

In Loving Memory of Betty T. Wooten, a Woman Called to Serve

A personal message from Dr. Sharon:

There is a lot of information about breast cancer and outreach to various communities and indeed in the church, particularly in October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, often we hear the messages so much that we forget the very human faces associated with this disease. Unfortunately, we become “numb” to the pink ribbons, balloons, walks and other efforts to raise awareness because each month has a different health focus and unless someone close to us or we have been affected, we continue on with our lives. As a nationally requested speaker and writer in large and small venues who focuses on health, particularly women’s health; I will admit that I too had become a bit “numb”. I have given several talks/lectures and workshops on breast cancer, never do a women’s conference without discussing this disease and have written articles and been interviewed on the subject. I can quote the stats better than most and can share stories about the impact of the disease at the drop of a hat. However, after January 10, 2009--- my messages have definitely changed and my focus is much more keen for that was the day that part of my heart was broken by the death of my beloved friend, mentor, and indeed one of my “mothers”; Betty T. Wooten, RN, MPH.

As a MD, I knew that my friend was in a perilous condition but as a woman of faith I continued to pray and ask God for another month, week or day. I understood the issues with metastasis of the cancer, eventual hospice care and all of the statistics but I felt the love of a daughter. This was “My Betty” and certainly she was going to somehow continue to fight this cancer which she had valiantly fought for over ten years. Through the diagnoses, the surgeries, the chemotherapy and the radiation this nurse and health educator fought and fought again as the cancer continued to try to take her life. She battled ups and downs, hair loss, bone pain, organ involvement and other setbacks with a different set of knowledge than the average cancer patient because she was a health professional. She was a nurse that had served in public health and now was nursing coordinator in a program training other nurses. Betty listened to her many doctors but did her own research and faced her mortality with a vivid understanding of what was before her. She talked to me and others about her disease, the possibilities and probabilities but she NEVER gave up. Betty in the midst of chemotherapy would be week but take time to call another woman that was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. In the midst of a recurrence would come to the church, hold a meeting with the Health Ministry that she headed at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Maryland and go home utterly exhausted.

I would often talk with Betty and ask her when she was going to take it easy, to which she would say--- “I am going to live my life, there is nothing else to do.” And live she certainly did with her husband, the love of her life Lorenzo Wooten, Sr. Betty championed her very public struggle with breast cancer and was an advocate as well as mothering spirit for many. She never backed up from the diagnosis and was forever positive about what life held for her whether one day or several years. Betty was human and certainly there were moments when she questioned God, His Will, why she was not the fortunate one that was able to live cancer free and indeed questioned her future. However, she never questioned His love for her, her family’s dedication, the admiration and love of her friends and church family. Betty never questioned her call to serve and continually tried to help others in their health challenges even while battling for her own life.

In the last days when the decision had been made to enter home hospice, I was emotionally wounded because the physician in me knew that there was no other real option. However, the friend/daughter in me so wanted to find that glimmer of hope that would tell me that Betty would live for us to talk again, to work in the church and to share food in her kitchen. Betty and I talked and she told me that she wasn’t afraid, that she had been blessed by God with a wonderful family and friends, that she had truly lived her life and that she hoped that her struggle would help someone else facing breast cancer or a terminal illness. Betty told me that she was at peace with God and that she was ready to see him. I quietly wept as she comforted me then quickly said—“Now, stop that foolishness—I’m not dying today.” Betty T. Wooten did transition from earth to heaven a few weeks later but the cancer indeed never beat her spirit.

Yes, I’ve talked about breast cancer, women’s health and a host of other issues for years. I have seen women and men die from the disease but never before have I been so affected to my core as I watched one of my “sheroes” face the truly devastating effect that breast cancer can have on your body and your life. We may have become numb to the pink ribbons, the balloons and all of the “stuff” associated with breast cancer awareness. However, I ask that we pinch/shake ourselves and WAKE UP to the reality of breast cancer and breast health. I encourage you to do a reality check, assess our risk factors for the disease and become advocates for early detection, screening and proper treatment. Every woman MUST start with yourself and find out what YOU need to do, then all of us should support breast cancer initiatives, make sure that your church has an awareness/education drive and do SOMETHING besides just pass out a ribbon.

On May 2-3, 2009 I will walk in the 39 mile Avon Breast Cancer Walk in Washington, DC in memory of my beloved friend. I will walk with the Ebenezer AME Church Health Ministry in her honor and indeed with Betty urging us on to keep walking, keep living and keep spreading the message of early detection, screening and treatment. Join me in this walk by supporting our effort, go to for more information.

What You Must Know about Breast Cancer

Important U.S. Facts About Breast Cancer *

  • Approximately 178,480 women and 2,030 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year
  • 40,460 women and 450 men in the U.S. will die from the disease annually.
  • There are over 2 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. who have been treated for breast cancer
  • Every 3 minutes, there is a new diagnosis of invasive breast cancer
  • There are more than 250,000 women under the age of 40 in the U.S living with breast cancer, and over 11,000 will be diagnosed this year .
  • A woman has a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime
  • Every 13 minutes, a life is lost to breast cancer
  • White, non-Hispanic women are more likely to develop breast cancer but African-American women are more likely to die from it.
  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Hispanic women and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among this group.

Men Get Breast Cancer, Too*

  • Survival for men with breast cancer is similar to survival for women, when their stage of diagnosis is the same.
  • Men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually found in men between 60 and 70 years of age.
  • Male breast cancer makes up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer.
  • Male breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations, and a family history of breast cancer can increase a man’s risk.

What You Must DO about Breast Cancer*

Be sure you and your loved ones follow the recommended guidelines from the American Cancer Society for early detection of breast cancer. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family consult your doctor on the need to begin these steps at an earlier age.

  • Yearly mammograms are recommended starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
  • Clinical breast exam (CBE) should be part of a periodic health exam, about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.
  • Women should know how their breasts normally feel and report any breast change promptly to their health care providers. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.
  • Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.

*Information from the American Cancer Society and Contact Dr. Sharon Allison-Ottey and The COSHAR Foundation for more information on breast cancer programs and outreach that your church or community organization can host.