tundra_king_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

For most people, cancer is a terrifying, potentially life-threatening disease. For Paula Holland De Long, cancer “gave me my life back.” Before her diagnosis at age 37, De Long said, she would have described herself as “cranky, overworked and a real mess.”

But, the certified life coach and founder of the Wilton Manors-based What’s Next For My Life Inc. said, “When I woke up after my surgery, with one breast, I felt that God gave me cancer because I was dying inside and needed to know him.”

For Geraldine McCall-Reese of Fort Lauderdale, the discovery in 1998 that she had cancer was so traumatic, she said, she “could not talk about it to anyone outside of my family without breaking down and crying.”

And for Tundra King, 46, of Sunrise, the positive biopsy of her right breast last year was “frightening.”

“I was angry with God,” King said. I thought I had done everything right. I exercise, eat right and treat people right. And still my diagnosis was positive.”

De Long, McCall-Reese and King, all breast cancers survivors, talked about their experiences with cancer and its treatment at the fourth annual Old Fashioned DSTea held on Oct. 17 at the E. Pat Larkins Center in Pompano Beach.

The tea, sponsored by the Pompano Beach Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, drew a gathering of some 220 and raised about $5,500. More donations are expected, according to Leslie Massey, the tea fundraiser chairwoman.

The money will support the Delta chapter’s participation in activities sponsored by the American Cancer Society, including financial donations, member participation in the Relay For Life and recruitment of volunteers for the Road to Recovery program, Massey said.

The Relay For Life, an overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs, is the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising initiative.

The Road to Recovery program provides transportation to and from treatment for people living with cancer who do not have a ride or are unable to drive.

De Long said that she was convinced that after her treatment, her life would return to normal.

“But,” she said, “there is no normal after cancer. When you hear the word ‘cancer’, you hear the word ‘death’, so it’s never the same.”

McCall-Reese said that she chose to have a lumpectomy after an ultrasound revealed calcification, which she described as “something that looked like seven grains of salt.”

After several radiation treatments, she said, “my breast was black and under my arms became sore. I wanted to get past [the treatments].”

But, she said, “I survived. I thank Jesus every day for being present in my life.”

If a woman finds something in her breasts that is “not right,” King said, her advice is to “seek your doctor’s attention right away.”

“It grows and spreads quickly. My son is 11 and, for him, I was determined to choose life,” King said.

Anita Harris, 52, of Pompano Beach, attended the tea with other church members to learn more about breast cancer. She recently had her first mammogram.

"I was afraid of what the results might say, afraid of finding out about what I really don't know about the disease because it happened to me," she said.  The test was negative.

“No one should fear a test that can save lives,” she said. “The more we know about [mammograms], the more we realize how important it is to have it done."

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.