Breast cancer message crosses racial barriers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

By Susan Shinn
For The Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Barbara Valentine has been a cancer survivor for 22 years.
She draws from her experience to warn others about the disease, but she has found that most black women do not like talking about breast cancer.
She wants all women to hear her story, and she’ll talk with anyone who wants to listen, long after Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends.
Valentine, who will soon turn 60, is a 22-year survivor of the disease. She has made numerous presentations about breast cancer, and distributes pins, pamphlets and shows off well-used posters.
She’s also written about her experience, in poetry and stories. One of those poems is called “I’m Still Here,” and Barbara is definitely happy to be here.
In December 1988, the native of California was out shopping when she felt a “really weird sensation” in her right breast. “It was like a spider weaving a web, almost.”
She adds, “Women should know their bodies. I knew something was wrong.”
She called her doctor, who ordered a mammogram. A week later, she went for a consultation. She was first told she’d need a lumpectomy, but ended up having a total mastectomy. She’s had biopsies on her left breast since. Valentine’s aunt had breast cancer, and her sister had a breast removed just this year.
Valentine feels fortunate that her cancer was caught early. She did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.
Today, there’s much more awareness about breast cancer, says Valentine, who now lives in Spencer. She likes to do her part, too.
“I like to go out and spread the word,” she says.
Especially to black women.
“More black women die from the disease,” she points out.
Valentine believes that a mammogram remains the most important tool for early detection of breast cancer.
Still, “Most black women don’t want to talk about breast cancer and are afraid of having mammograms,” she said.
That doesn’t stop her from talking about the disease and answering any questions she’s asked. Writing about breast cancer and talking about it has helped her healing process.
She loves to write and has notebooks full of poetry and stories.
“God left me here for a reason,” she says, “so I can tell other women about breast cancer.”
Valentine says that seeing a plethora of pink every October is just fine with her.
“Even the football players get involved,” she says of NFL players who wear pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“However you have to throw it out there, you should,” she sayd.
Valentine says she’s often asked the question, “Why are you so happy?”
Her answer?
“Because I’m still here.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.