The Chester Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. held a breast cancer event called “Sisters United for a Cause: Breast Cancer Does Not See Color” last weekend at the Media Borough Hall in Media. This was the first time the sorority hosted this event. About 75 women attended.
“We really wanted to bring awareness about this illness not only our sorors, but also the community,” said program planning chair of Delta Sigma Theta Chester Alumnae Chapter Carolyn Clayton. “Under our programmatic thrust of physical and mental health we wanted to just bring this information to women of our community. African American women are dying more from this disease than any other race. If we have more awareness, we can be more prepared, detect things earlier, and hopefully change those statistics by doing so.”
The speakers at the event included breast cancer survivor Kathy Dawson of Living Beyond Breast Cancer LLBC, Faith Mutale of University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and Kerri Conner, author of “My Mommy Has Breast Cancer, But She Is OK!”
Conner, who is an advocate of breast cancer, has been affected personally by the disease. At 41-years-old her mother was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive form of breast cancer. At 33-years-old Conner found out she had stage three breast cancer; ten years after her mother. Both women are cancer free today. Their determination and support for each other is what inspired her book about breast cancer.
“The inspiration behind the book comes from me wanting to share my story with other women who are going through the same thing that I went through,” she said. “I wanted something that was going to encourage and inspire not only children, but families to never give no matter what comes your way. I wanted to educate our children and that’s what the book does as well as brings awareness about breast cancer to the community.”
In addition to the speakers, there was a special flower presentation for breast cancer survivors and people who were affected by the disease. There were also informational vendors on breast cancer.
“Having an event like this is very important to me and it does empower me,” said assistant financial secretary of Delta Sigma Theta Chester Alumnae Chapter Yolanda Hughes. “I volunteer at a lot of other breast cancer organizations, so I wanted to bring that to the sorority because a lot of women are dying from this disease.
“I lost my mom, my aunt, and my cousin at such a young age to breast cancer, and I was in a state of fear because I wondered if I would also get the disease at a young age, but what I found is the more involved I became with other organizations, I met breast cancer survivors,” she added. “That was important to me, because no one in my family has survived breast cancer. This is a disease that is affecting everyone, but people can beat this disease if given the proper information on it.”
African-American Children’s Book Fair set for Feb. 3
Children’s author Sharon Flake is using her North Philadelphia roots to help children develop the love of reading.
Though she has not been to the African-American Children’s Book Fair in several years, when she arrives from Pittsburgh she will bring her Disney books that capture the voices of youngsters who live in neighborhoods like Germantown and East Falls, near her old “stomping ground” around the 33rd Street side of Fairmount Park.
Young African American boys will find their counterpart as the main character in “You Don’t Even Know Me.” For Flake this book came about as she noticed that the average Black boy is invisible. He is often overshadowed by the stereotypical rebel or troublemaker who gets most of the press.
“Writing from a child’s perspective is something I was called to do,” Flake said. “I started out writing in college and just knew even before that I could tell stories from a kid’s perspective. After working in P.R. at the University of Pittsburgh for 18 years I finally took that leap of faith to do what I was originally called to do.
“I am writing in the voice of those African-American boys who feel that no one is listening to them,” she added. “That’s why the first story in my collection of short stories is about a boy who wants to get married. So often we don’t think of Black boys wanting to grow up, fall in love and get married.”
Around the time President Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American president, Flake penned “President of the World.”
Though the idea for the book was birthed before the president announced he was running for office, the Philadelphia-born author remembered that while growing up boys she knew had high aspirations.
“I guess on some level I completed it because of President Obama, but I was thinking of this one along with ‘Broken Black Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street,” she said.
Through the eyes of the “Queen of 33rd Street” Flake captures the African American girls’ voice. This is the girl who is precocious, imaginative and creative. She is extremely bright, but has the challenge of exploring how she will use that aptitude.
“My stories have a moral but it’s done creatively,” Flake said. “It has honesty and frankness. When children leave they know the value of writing and rewriting, as well as things that they can take on their journey through life.”
So, Flake is looking forward to returning to Philadelphia to read to local children.
“I love the children who live here,” she said. “I believe that their story reflects the hopes, dreams and challenges of other young people living around the world.”
Flake will be joined at the fair by many of African-American authors and illustrators. They include Vanessa Brantley Newton, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon. Also present will be Kerri Conner, Jerry Craft, E. B. Lewis, Walter Dean Myers, Marilyn Nelson, and many others.
The African American Children’s Book Fair will be held at the Community College of Philadelphia’s Gymnasium, 17th and Spring Garden streets on Saturday, Feb. 4 from 1 to 3 p.m.
For more information, including a full list of authors and illustrators visit http://theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org/.
Kerri Conner of Cheltenham thought she understood what it was like for a daughter to learn that her mother had breast cancer. The now 33-year old Conner learned that her mother, Anita Conner, had cancer almost a decade ago. Yet when she herself was diagnosed with the disease she found that explaining the disease to her own preschool daughter, Madison, was challenging.
Since Kerri Conner could not find a book on the subject, being the proactive accountant that she is, she chose to write her own book. That’s when “My Mommy Has Breast Cancer, But She Is Ok!” was born. The publication, illustrated by Roc Upchurch and Maureek Graham, tells the story of Maddie’s journey through seeing her mother’s tears and fatigue to consoling another youngster whose mother has breast cancer.
“There was just nothing out there that showed images to help me to explain to my daughter what I was going through,” said Kerri Conner. “I wanted to do a book for African-American children because African-American women die of the disease at a much higher rate than any other ethnic group.
“After I was diagnosed two more women at my daughter’s day care were also diagnosed. What I tried to do in this book is write something inspirational. I (toyed) with the title a lot but I thought just being direct would be encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes people think I’m writing about my experience with my mother, but it’s really about a tool I used to tell my own daughter,” Kerri Conner said.
The book has been well received since its initial publication in February of last year. Over the past year Kerri Conner has had book signings at the Mount Airy Church of God in Christ, the First African Baptist Church, and Monumental Baptist Church. She’s also done readings followed by signing at the YMCAs in both Abington and North Philadelphia. Many women’s organizations and religious groups have asked her to share her breast cancer survival testimony as well as her experience penning the book.
What Kerri Conner reveals at these showcases is that for her breast cancer has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Though she readily admitted that she went through the same stages of fear and anxiety as anyone with cancer, it has also enriched her life.
“I have become more passionate,” said Kerri Conner. “Cancer has really changed my life for the better. As a CPA I was in a very stressful occupation. Sometimes under stress you take things for granted. Now I look at life differently. I cherish every single day. Before I was just running, running, running. Now I really do take the time to smell the roses.
“I know there are many mothers, grandmothers and aunts who had breast cancer and are not able to do that. So even if it rains I don’t get upset. I no longer sweat the small stuff. I am just blessed to be able to live another day. That’s why I had to write this book about my journey,” Kerri Conner said.
In her debut book,”My Mommy Has Breast Cancer, But She Is OK!,” breast cancer survivor Kerri Conner has created a truly unique book targeted to children of cancer victims.”The whole reason I wrote the book,” explained Conner, “is because people think that children don’t realize what’s going on and they try to keep things from them.”
The book provides the precious gift of explaining this horrible disease to children and sets the conversation for addressing children’s fears and questions about breast cancer. Conner takes on the challenging questions — and offers a solution to children’s bewildered attempt at understanding their own circumstances and facing the possible loss of their loved ones.
She set the record straight from a first hand experience. Her goal is to take the fear out of the dialogue. It is an experience she’s had first hand. When Conner was diagnosed three years ago at age 33, she was the mother of a toddler, and vividly recalled her feeling in coping with her mother’s successful battle against breast cancer.
“Even though my daughter was 2, she could definitely see the changes that were taking place in me — the loss of the hair, not being able to do certain activities with her like I could do before like go to the park, or even give her a bath. I think it’s really important that we share this information with our children, and with our families so that they can know the changes that we are getting ready to go through.”
In the book, the main character Maddie and her mother embark on the journey from diagnosis to recovery. Maddie’s mother comes out of it, better than ever. Maddie’s mother is now OK. At the end of the book, Maddie goes on to educate others of the lesson she learned.
“There is a very real lack of books aimed to educate children on this topic,” said Donald L. West Jr., publisher and CEO of Axis Publishing. “Though there are numerous books for adults on cancer and breast cancer specifically, the oversight of the market to deal with the vast reach of this disease and its numerous victims has left a large need to be addressed.”
Conner has created “The Maddie Movement,” a program designed to promote breast cancer awareness for children and named after the main character of the book. She is touring this fall at libraries, schools, churches and corporate events across the nation, to increase awareness and support for the cure of this disease. “This is something that people don’t want to talk about,” notes Conner. “Thirteen years ago, my mother didn’t want to discuss that she had cancer. I was diagnosed 10 years after her. And just the advance that we’ve made and how we’re starting to talk about this more in just that 10 year time frame is significant.”
Kerri Conner will appear at 11 a.m.–noon on Saturday, Nov. 12 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street. For book information, visit www.mymommyhasbreastcancer.org and use the code “discounts” for $5 off purchase. All proceeds will go toward the non-profit breast cancer initiative, “Praise Is The Cure.”