Photo caption: Thelma Jones addresses breast cancer survivors and families.

Photo caption: Melanie Nix, Alleya Miner, and Carlos Hicks share emotional stories of losing mothers to breast cancer.

Photo caption: Carlos Hicks and Audrea Hennis reflect on their journeys.

Photo caption: Reverend Martha Clark extends greetings as participants anticipate an inspiring evening.

Thelma D. Jones, founder of the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF), held her annual Support Group holiday meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church with 30 participants in attendance. TDJBCF is a grassroots organization with national and global recognition. Jones, herself a breast cancer survivor, established the monthly support group in April 2010. The support group is the signature program of TDJBCF. The mission of the fund is “to advocate and improve the overall health and wellness for women and men through outreach, education, and prevention.” Early detection is promoted with a vision aimed at saving lives and achieving a world community free of breast cancer.

Jones opened the meeting by welcoming cancer survivors and their families, and then Reverend Martha Clark, rector of St. Augustine’s, extended greetings and offered holiday blessings. After recognition of breast cancer survivors, introduction of guests, and some caroling, speakers who had lost their mothers to breast cancer were invited to share their stories. Melanie A. Nix, herself a breast cancer survivor and co-founder of the Breast Cancer Comfort Site, served as the moderator. The Breast Cancer Comfort Site was established in 2009 with the vision of providing hope, determination, inspiration, and perspective while changing the tone and the tenor of the conversation.

The panelists, Alleya Miner and Carlos Hicks, who both lost their mothers to breast cancer when they were very young, and Audrea Hennis, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, answered questions posed by Nix, who also shared her story of losing her mother and having to deal with the disease herself.

Panelist Miner shared that she resorted to food in order to find comfort after her mother’s death and while struggling with her father’s illness shortly afterwards. Hicks expressed his anger at God, saying, “There are so many bad people in this world yet God took my loving mother.” Nix shared that she was just plain angry and “didn’t want to hear that she was in a better place.” Nix became angry with God when she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Believers and nonbelievers alike become angry with God, especially when they have no answer to the question “why?” We all have our own ways of grieving and there is no set time prescribed for getting over loss. Most Christians believe that God is with them in their suffering, but sometimes forget this.

Nix claims that her children keep her going and never misses an opportunity to tell them, “Carter and Kennedy, mommy loves you.” She claims that she now understands that her mother probably felt that it was a blessing to have her to love while she was going through her illness.

For Miner, the experience made her grateful for life. She claims that she is now comfortable with death and is able to connect with those who are affected by the loss of a parent. Hennis, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor and was also present at the meeting, expressed that her mother’s illness brought her to the United States; and her mother is now able to be with her and to spend time with her grandson.

Nix asked panelists to consider what advice they would give to parents. These are some of their responses:

Miner: I wish my parents had their affairs in order because when a parent dies, there is additional pain in just trying to survive. “Parents don’t procrastinate, this causes a lot of trauma.”

Hicks: Be open with children about death. Good family support is crucial.

Hennis: Parents, keep your children abreast of what is going on.

Nix: What advice would you give to children of parents who are suffering?

Hennis: Be positive and pray. Positive thinking materializes what you feel.

Hicks: Stay away from the wrong kind of people, they will lead you down the wrong path. Stay prayed up, loved up, and show love to your families.

Nix: Is there anything you would like to add?

Miner: Health is all we have. People of color need to change their eating habits. I am now vegan.

Hicks: Most people don’t go to doctors because they are afraid. Sometimes doctors cannot be trusted so the best approach is to do your own research and look for the holistic approach.

Hennis: I am on a journey to increase health of mind and body by trying the natural path.

Jones thanked the panelists for their courage in sharing their stories and Deacon Marcea Paul offered closing remarks and a holiday blessing. Those present truly enjoyed the evening, which ended with more caroling, a healthy meal, and gift giving. Gifts were generously provided by support group participants and friends, including each attendee receiving a goodie bag and their choice of a beautiful hand-crocheted afghan or scarf.

Jones is to be commended for the great work she does by advocating for and supporting those affected by breast cancer. Her lobbying of public officials both on national and local level for funding of tobacco control and cancer research has given hope to many.

Marcea Paul contributed to this article. Paul is a 2018 Ministry of Divinity candidate from the Diocese of Southeast Florida and has been an intern at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church for the past year.

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