By Shauntyra Sweeting
For Hometown News
Wearing a pink skirt, matching top and white sneakers, Sophie Kirtley walks around Lake Jessica with about a dozen of her co-workers at the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County.
The walkers are dedicated to taking healthy walk breaks during the day. But for Ms. Kirtley, staying healthy is a mission. It means keeping her body cancer free.
Nineteen years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I am a survivor," the New Jersey native said. "I don't take anything for granted. I take one day at a time. I want other women to pay attention to their health and get regular mammograms."
Ms. Kirtley was only 36 years old when she discovered a lump in her breast. Her mammogram results unveiled the shocking news -- she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. "One million thoughts went through my mind back then. How do I beat this? What's going to happen to me? What's my next step and why this happening to me is were just some of my thoughts," she said.
With chemotherapy, weight loss and hair loss, her world changed as she maintained a positive attitude while fighting cancer.
"During chemotherapy at times I wanted to scream, cry and break away from this pain," Ms. Kirtley said. "But I kept fighting and I am proud to say I am cancer free since November 1997. I am a breast cancer survivor."
Breast cancer changed her life for the better. Since the news, she traveled more, laughed harder, inspired others and educated everyone she could about breast cancer. Her advice to women with breast cancer is to "fight and never give up." For other women, her message is from the heart as she encourages them to make an appointment to receive a mammogram.
Last year, the health department's Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program assisted 593 women in Volusia.
"The program serves eligible women in seven counties, including Volusia, Flagler, Lake, Marion, St. Johns, Clay and Baker. I am very thankful that our federally funded grant allows us to help women," said Suzy Malcolm, regional program coordinator. "There is a great need for this program in our communities."
Women may be eligible for free or low-cost clinical breast exams, mammograms and Pap smears if they meet the following qualifications:
oBetween 50 and 64 years old
oNo medical insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid
For more information, call the Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Screening Program at (800) 226-6110.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women. Men can also get breast cancer, but it rarely occurs.
As one motivational speaker puts it -- courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow. That's what Ms. Kirtley reminded herself every day going through chemotherapy and growing stronger with every word. The true warrior in pink is Sophie Kirtley.
Shauntyra Sweeting is a communications major emphasis in public relations and advertising at Bethune-Cookman University and a public information intern at the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County.