TALLAHASSEE — Members and staff of the Florida House of Representatives wore pink on Wednesday, Oct.19, at the suggestion of two breast cancer survivors who serve in the Florida Legislature and who sought to call attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
State Reps. Geraldine F. Thompson (D-Orlando) and Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed (D-Deerfield Beach) asked their colleagues to don pink outfits to celebrate the power of pink and strides being made against breast cancer.
Before seeking office as a state legislator, Clarke-Reed was preparing for law school in 2005. She was scheduled to take the LSAT in late summer. But that September, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and by November of that year was scheduled for surgery. After a lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes, she began in January 2006 a regimen of eight chemotherapy treatments. She also received 35 radiation treatments. She completed treatment for breast cancer in June of 2006. Plans for law school went by the board, and she announced her candidacy for the House in February 2007.
Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis, Clarke-Reed served 12 years on the Deerfield Beach City Commission. Throughout her treatment she continued her community involvement and activism. Her family and community provided the support she needed to keep moving forward. She said she often left chemotherapy and had lunch with friends. Clarke-Reed was among the lucky cancer patients who were not debilitated by the chemicals that flowed into her veins every three weeks. Today, she encourages other breast cancer survivors to reach out to help others along the journey to restored health. She encourages young women and others to seek annual mammograms and to work with the best team of doctors they can find if tests reveal that treatment is needed.
After receiving 61 percent of the vote in a three-person Democratic primary in August 2006, Geraldine Thompson began to focus on a tender spot on her upper right breast. A mammogram in October 2006 was followed by a sonogram. Her doctor became concerned about the inconclusive tests and directed her to seek a biopsy. The results of the biopsy revealed a malignant carcinoma in her right breast. Thompson had looked forward to celebrating her birthday in November, but the cancer diagnosis and a fast-growing malignancy fed by hormones made her wonder if she would live to see another birthday.
Like many African American women, Thompson’s cancer was invasive and very aggressive. Her doctor recommended surgery as soon as possible. Her surgeon performed a lumpectomy and removed a number of her lymph nodes on the day of the 2006 General Election when she faced a write-in candidate. An examination of the tissue from her breast and the lymph nodes revealed that the cancer was confined to the breast and had not spread to other parts of Thompson’s body. Clean margins around the area where the cancer had been and clear lymph nodes, in Thompson’s mind, were equal victories to the one she obtained at the polls on Election Day.
Thompson was sworn into the House in January 2007. The next month, she began chemotherapy. Initially, she was strong and energetic and continued to travel between Orlando and Tallahassee for treatment during the legislative session. As the chemicals accumulated in her body, she became sicker and weaker. One chemical, Taxol, caused her to lose feeling in her hands and feet, which impaired her mobility. Her oncologist consulted with a colleague in Tallahassee and arranged for treatments in Tallahassee.
After chemotherapy, Thompson received radiation, which caused burns that peeled away the skin around her breast and side. Throughout her treatment, she continued her service in the Florida House of Representatives. She lived with her adult children and grandchildren who cared for her in Tallahassee. Her husband, Senior Appeals Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., organized her treatments and sat with her during each chemotherapy session in Orlando. She described her treatment as challenging and life-saving. Thompson encourages women to visit their doctors regularly and get the treatment they need to be here for others.
To learn more about breast cancer survival and treatment, Reps. Clarke – Reed and Thompson encourage seeking information from medical professionals and visiting the following sites:
ON THE NET
National Breast Cancer Foundation: nationalbreastcancer.org
American Cancer Society: cancer.org
Susan G. Komen For The Cure: komen.org
Breast Cancer.org: breastcancer.org
Photo: COURTESY MEREDITH GEDDINGS HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER
Geraldine F. Thompson