Stories of Cancer Survival, Faith and Hair at the Essence Music Festival

Sue Hunter and her sister stopped by the American Cancer Society’s exhibition booth at this year’s Essence Music Festival in New Orleans to take a picture and pick up some giveaways, but she left us with a gift too – inspiration. Hunter shared her story of surviving breast cancer twice, first in 2007 and again two years later.

“I never asked ‘why me?’ Why not me?,” Hunter said of her diagnosis.  She underwent chemotherapy for her second diagnosis, which she described as a tough experience. “It was hard,” she said, “but I kept the faith and a positive attitude.”

Sue Hunter and Her Sister at the American Cancer Society Booth

Hunter is one of more than 900 thousand African American cancer survivors alive in the United States today (according to the National Cancer Institute).  While that’s an encouraging statistic, more work remains to be done to reduce the number of deaths from cancer in the African American community, particularly with preventable cancers such as breast and colon cancer. Access to high quality treatment, and recommended cancer screenings, are critically important in reducing cancer disparities in the African American community.

Those messages were heard loud and clear at the Society’s festival booth.  Dr. Cynthia LeBlanc, a volunteer from California and the first African American woman to chair the American Cancer Society’s board of directors, was among those passing out health information and listening to dozens of survivors tell their emotional stories.  They were proud to utter the words “I’m a cancer survivor,” and were not shy about discussing their experiences. They posed for pictures at the Society’s photo booth wearing “Survivor” sashes and smiling for the camera.

LeBlanc said afterwards “I believe the American Cancer Society’s presence at the Essence Music Festival empowered attendees to feel more comfortable talking about their cancer experience. We were able to provide a unique and culturally appropriate way to share very important health messages to African Americans of all ages.”

–Sue Hunter would most likely agree.  When asked for words of encouragement to others going through cancer treatment, she had some funny, but true, advice about chemotherapy and hair loss for African American women. “If you have to go through chemo, don’t worry about the hair,” she said. “It’s a small thing. And if it doesn’t grow back, they make a lot of it these days,” she said with a wink and a laugh.

For more information about cancer and how the American Cancer Society can help, please call 1.800.227.2345.

Read more about the American Cancer Society and the Essence Music Festival here.

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