Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
I believe in the saying that if you give to the world the best you have, the best will come back to you. I have tried to live my life inspired by this mantra—and I have tried to inspire and influence others to do the same. My fight against breast cancer and my work to educate and help others facing the same challenge have defined my life for the past four years. My volunteer work in building stronger communities in Washington, DC and in my home state of North Carolina has been my passion for over thirty years. And while the impact of my efforts alone may be limited, I believe those efforts have been greatly magnified by the efforts of countless volunteers who have responded to my positive example and found ways to serve their communities in countless ways.
My dream of visiting the White House was realized when the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network nominated me as a Champions of Change, in recognition of my work helping to fight against breast cancer. When I was diagnosed in June 2007 with a rare form of breast cancer, my world and my life perspective changed drastically. The harsh treatments—chemotherapy, surgery and seven weeks of radiation—took a toll on me, changing the very essence of who I am and limiting my abilities to accomplish some of my dreams. Now, I am a breast cancer survivor, certified breast health educator, community navigator, youth worker, and Ambassador for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
A major lesson I learned along the way was the value of family members, friends, communities, and colleagues--they provide identity, support, joy and comfort. They make the fight against this disease tolerable. No one who travels the breast cancer journey should have to make this journey alone.
Almost from the inception of my diagnosis, I vowed to fight back and use my voice to increase funding for cancer research and to make it a national priority. I have vowed to use my experience as a survivor as a beacon of hope and inspiration for others who have the disease or who have lost a loved one.
Today, I serve as a community navigator for Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, where I regularly navigate 18-20 patients, providing moral support and a listening ear. I help arrange mammography appointments, connect patients with financial and housing resources, and identify other needs, such as transportation, lack of education, and fear about the disease.
Yes, I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. I have a voice and a story that can help inspire and give hope to others who are fighting the disease.
Thelma Jones is a four-year breast cancer survivor who is a relentless cancer advocate and certified breast health educator for the American Cancer Society (ACS) and community navigator for Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.