By Caitlin Leggett

Thelma D. Jones and Dr. Lori L. Wilson at the 2022 Tigerlily Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. Courtesy of the Author.

The sounds of smooth jazz played by Mystical Waters’ Saleem Wayne Waters filled the open space inside Westminster Presbyterian Church on an October evening. Shades of pink shawls and ties milled about the room. The church regularly serves as home to Sunday service, Jazz Night in DC, and the Blue Monday Blues. However, this Wednesday, the building was dressed in pink in true Breast Cancer Awareness Month fashion, to honor Thelma. D. Jones, 2022 Recipient of the Howard University Cancer Center Dr.  Lori L. Wilson Conquering Cancer Award. The namesake of the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF) celebrates her 71st birthday this year and instead of throwing a party for herself, she honored a cause plaguing women and men daily—breast cancer. On her birthday, Sept. 5, she set out to raise $7,100 to support the cause and has exceeded that goal with the effort ending December 31, 2023. It’s not too late to contribute at and have your name listed for a great cause on the “Birthday Wall.” The foundation also celebrates the 11th Anniversary of the TDJBCF.

Jones told the audience of the turning point in her life that made her diagnosis take on a whole new meaning: ”When I was lying in the hospital bed with breast cancer,” she said. “I asked the Almighty, that if you take me through this, I will dedicate the rest of my life to breast cancer and helping others to navigate their journey…I am pleased to say that not one single day have I defaulted on my promise to the Almighty.” 

This year’s October support group meeting was dedicated to the life and legacy of Dr. Lori Wilson, who was the Chief of Surgical Oncology at Howard University School of Medicine and the first woman to be promoted to full professor of surgery at the university. With her husband Chris Dauphin and family in attendance, the event served as a reminder of the many lives the late doctor has touched. 

Dauphin spoke to the crowd, appreciative of the impact that his wife had, and also advocating for the cause that she loved so much. “Early detection is key so, please examine yourself,” he remarked. In a heartfelt plea for his wife’s cause, he gave a testimony to the audience. “I know for minority communities it is always a touchy subject because of the history of research and trials with African American community…but I’m here to testify on their behalf that those trials extended Lori’s life beyond what the doctors told me.” 

Howard University Cancer Center (HUCC) Interim Director Dr. Carla D. Williams emceed the event and led a candlelight memorial as stories of resilience were told by women like two-time breast cancer survivor and Patient Navigator Coordinator Kimberly Higginbotham, MPT,  HUCC. She helps individuals diagnosed with cancer with obstacles like scheduling, taking notes, answering questions, and even connecting patients who suffer from food insecurity to resources.

Additionally, the 2023 Evelyn B. Curtis Spirit Award was presented to Brea Hickson, 32, for her advocacy work with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) (metastasis) as a wife and mom of three young children. 

In attendance were other phenomenal women who shared their commitment to the struggle like Lisa Baynes, Associate Director, American Cancer Society and Ruth Redmond, former firefighter, fire inspector, breast cancer survivor and now author. Wendy Wright Johnson, CEO & Co-Founder, Edith P. Wright Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. (EPW), presented Jones with an Iconic Edi Barbie doll in her mother’s honor who transitioned from breast cancer. In addition, Darren Haley, Operations Manager, Life Enhancement Services shared their organization’s mission and vision as a nationally accredited provider of behavioral health services for children, adults, and families in Washington, DC.

Vocalist, advocate, and Cecily graced the crowd with a couple of songs, including an emotional rendition of “I Love the Lord” paying homage to Dr. Wilson. The voice of Miriamm Wright McKinney, Co-Founder & Chair, EPW was also heard via recorded song with her original song “We Must Find a Cure”.

Jones remarked on the growth of the organization saying: “We were founded first as a support group in April 2010, modelled after a support group at the World Bank Group, which is where I retired from after more than 33 years,” said Jones. “In 2012, we became an official organization. So, we are now a 501c3 nonprofit organization and, thanks to Westminster and the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly that helped us along the way.” Jones plans to continue to grow the organization with community partners like HUCC and continue to dedicate her life to breast cancer.

Celebrate the yule-tide season with the TDJBCF on Wednesday, Dec. 20, at 6:00 p.m. at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. The meeting will focus on genetic counseling and children of breast cancer survivors (living or deceased). Guest speakers will include Grace-Ann Fasaye, ScM, CGC (she, her, hers), Senior Genetic Counselor, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research, Genetics Branch and Brea Hickson, MBA, IBC Survivor and Advocate. For information, email or call (202) 251-1639.

Caitlin Leggett is a journalist with a BA in mass communications, a BS in computer science, and a MA in journalism.

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