Bridgette began reaching out to women while recovering from her breast cancer surgery, and after healing, founded Cierra Sisters cancer support group.

Breast cancer survivor Bridgette Hempstead
Bridgette Hempstead is founder of Cierra Sisters Inc., a support organization for African-American breast cancer survivors. She works extensively with Fred Hutch on breast cancer advocacy and in support of research. Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

I was with my daughter Shayla at home, and I heard the Lord speak to me in a very warning voice that said, 'Get a mammogram and do it now!' I looked around in the room, because there was no one at home except Shayla and I. The telephone was near me, so I picked up the phone and called the doctors, and told them I wanted to get a mammogram. They made an appointment for me to see my doctor. 

When my doctor examined me, she mentioned that there was no family history of breast cancer, and since I was 34 years old, and African-American I wouldn’t need a mammogram. She told me confidently not to worry and to come back after 10 years. When I asked her again, this time in a very urgent tone, if I could get a mammogram, the sternness in my voice and face told her that I was very serious, and to appease me she scheduled me for a mammogram.

On the morning of the mammogram, I heard many horror stories: It's bad, It hurts, It causes breast cancer, and African-Americans don't get it. So when the doctors finally did the mammogram, they told me more pictures needed to be taken, so as they took more pictures the specialist came out and told me I needed to see a surgeon immediately. I was diagnosed on my 35th birthday.

After surgery and pathology doctors explained to me that the cancer was in such an early stage that it was determined its first appearance was a year prior to the mammogram. All were quite surprised the cancer had even showed on the mammogram since it was 0.9 centimeters, about the size of a pen dot. Many questions arose as to how I could have known there was cancer there, but my answer to everyone’s question was that the Lord warned me. For this very reason I am a strong voice in the community, warning and educating my African-American sisters that breast cancer is real, but you don’t have to die from it.

I am also strong in breast cancer education and outreach, including seminars, and motivational speaking to women who suffer or have suffered from breast cancer. I encourage them that they can make a difference in their family lives, and in their own lives, knowing that it doesn't diminish their womanhood.

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