By Southwester Staff

It was an amazingly beautiful day and a wonderful way to surprise a special person, as more than 100 family, friends, and coworkers recognized LaCretia “Rose” Bell-Willet, newly diagnosed breast cancer survivor, with a mini breast cancer walk on Sunday, June 13. The walk started at the imposing Titanic statue on the SW Waterfront, near 4th & P Streets, SW, and ended at the recently renovated Duck Pond on 4th & I Streets, SW, where the group was greeted by the welcoming sound of Jazz saxophonist extraordinaire Brian Lenair.  

The jubilant crowd, beautifully clad in pink T-shirts adorned with inspiring breast cancer buttons and pins, bracelets, and masks, brought uncontrollable tears of joy to Rose. Still wrought with emotions from the surprise and outpouring number of supporters, Rose said tearfully: “I’m fighting this; cancer picked the wrong person,” which brought an outpouring of cheers and applause from the crowd.  

Organized by SW resident Arnice Mack, a long-time close friend of Rose and the daughter of the late Community Activist Delores C. Mack, Arnice emceed the program and conveyed the event’s purpose “to show love and support for LaCretia,” while reminding her that she and the rest of her huge support system would walk the journey with her. On the eve of the walk, Arnice and godchildren Shantel Jones and Sheldon Willett, Jr., who are also Rose’s children, along with Chris Norman, Shantel’s best friend, worked diligently on final walk details, including sorting T-shirts and giveaways, in the Delores C. Mack Room at the Cambria Hotel on Q Street, SW. The room was named in honor of Arnice’s mom for her years of dedicated and committed service to the SW community. “I saw Arnice, a spitting image of her mom, following in her mom’s footsteps. Arnice was giving tirelessly and lending a helping hand in a leadership capacity to help ensure that the job was completed and done well. Her mom would have been proud of her,” said Thelma D. Jones, Breast Cancer Champion and Founder, Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF), who contributed to the walk and stopped by the Cambria Hotel to give moral support and to pick up several T-shirts and giveaways.

Adding words of wisdom and tributes at the Duck Pond, speakers included Taneya Pair, recent DCIS cancer survivor, who gave the opening prayer, followed by tributes from Wallace Perry, Program Analyst, DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR); Paul Taylor, Program Analyst, DC Department of Corrections; and  Michael Snowden, Manager, DC Park Rangers (Rose ‘s supervisor). Jones then briefly shared her journey and emphasized the importance of early detection, screening, adherence, and genetic counseling and testing. Jones also reminded Rose of the already echoed belief that no one should travel their cancer journey alone while welcoming her to the TDJBCF monthly support group meetings held virtually on the third Wednesdays of each month at 6 p.m. Denise McKan, Pharmacist Director at the FDA, provided the closing prayer. 

Special thanks were extended to Rose’s spouse  Sheldon Willett, Sr. and children Shantel and Sheldon, Jr., family, and colleagues from DPR. Also, special thanks to Michael Baylor, photographer/videographer; Buster McClain, BMac Photography; DJ Wayne Washington; Hope Robinson, masks and balloon arrangements; Johnathan Robinson, T-shirt designer; and Kisha Murray, gift table decorations. 

After the program ended, Michael Henson, hand dancing instructor, and lead dancer Denise Johnson-Mathews, added a new element and meaning to the breast cancer walk by providing some robust physical activity with hand-dancing of all styles in a fun-loving way while keeping in mind the reason for their presence, recognizing Rose as a breast cancer survivor and reminding the audience that early detection saves lives.

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