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'So blessed to stand with other survivors'

Kerri Conner Matchett

Updated: Tuesday, May 17, 2016, 9:34 AM

Kerri Conner Matchett and her mother Anita T. Conner are both breast cancer survivors. This photo is part of the exhibit, "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in PA."

The PA Breast Cancer Coalition will kick off its photo exhibit, "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania," with an opening reception today at 5:00pm in the North Lobby at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. The exhibit features women and men who have faced breast cancer from each of PA's 67 counties. Here is an essay written by Kerri Conner Matchett, who is pictured in the exhibit.

This image of breast cancer survivor Amanda Musser is part of the exhibit, "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in PA."
This image of breast cancer survivors at Clarion Hospital is part of the exhibit, "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in PA"
Kerri Connor Matchett and her mother are both breast cancer survivors. This photo is part of the exhibit, "67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in PA."
Photo Gallery: 'So blessed to stand with other survivors'

Eighteen years ago I became an advocate for breast cancer patients and survivors.

I had recently graduated from Howard University and was studying for the certified public accounting exam when I got news that would forever change my life.

My mother, age 41, had been diagnosed with a stage 3 breast cancer that had spread to other parts of her body. At that time, people did not discuss cancer as openly as they do today. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer nor did I know anything about the disease. All I knew was that the doctors were telling my family and me that things did not look good.

Immediately, I began to pray like I’d never prayed before. I prayed for God to give my mother the strength and endurance to fight for her life. I prayed for God to take the fear of losing my mother from my heart, and I prayed for a cure for this dreadful disease.

I knew nothing about cancer, but my mother needed an advocate. I realized that the best path was to educate myself. As I studied I learned a lot, but the most significant piece of information stuck with me: that African American women – who develop fewer cases of breast cancer than other ethnic groups -- die from breast cancer at greater rates than any other ethnic group. Unfortunately, this remains the case today.

My mother’s journey with cancer was not an easy one. Her best chance for survival was to participate in a clinical trial. She endured high dose chemo treatments (10 times the standard dose), a hysterectomy, mastectomy, radiation treatments and a stem cell transplant.

But I am proud to say that 18 years later, my mother is alive, well and one of breast cancer awareness’ biggest advocates. She started a nonprofit called Praise Is the Cure, whose mission is to eliminate breast cancer disparities among black women by providing education, access to mammograms, and support services.

I wish I could end my story right there. But I can’t.

When my mother reached her 10-year mark of being cancer free, we prepared to celebrate the milestone. But God had other plans. The celebration turned serious when I found out that, at 33, I had been diagnosed with advanced and aggressive stage 3 cancer that had – like my mother’s case so many years before – spread to other parts of my body.

I was a mother with a 2-year-old daughter, about to embark on the longest and toughest journey of my life. But I did it. I survived the high dose chemotherapy treatments, the double mastectomy, the reconstruction, the radiation, the two years of preventative medications and the six surgeries.

I did it!

So when asked what it means to me to be a part of the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s Traveling Photo Exhibit, “67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in PA,” I don’t think there is enough ink or paper to express what an honor it is.

This exhibit gives me an opportunity to share so much with so many.

I am so blessed to stand with other survivors.

It grants me the opportunity to educate women, especially young women and to let them know, if it can happen to me, it can happen to them. I get to encourage them to take care of themselves, listen to their bodies, and act on any concerns. To remind them that breast cancer is not a death sentence and that early detection is the key.

Lastly, being a part of the exhibit enables me to inspire other patients and survivors. To be a light of encouragement, letting them know that they can get through this. To remind them the journey will be hard, but that they are not alone.

Kerri Conner Matchett is a partner at Anita T. Conner & Associates, P.C. and the author of “My Mommy Has Breast Cancer, But She Is Ok!”

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Kerri Conner Matchett

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