Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about the Cancer Support Center and its nearly three decades of service to the community.
When you’re a college student, pledging for a sorority is a big deal and an exciting time. Lakenia Robinson calls the Sista’s of Hope her “sorority.”
“I did not elect to be in this sorority,” she said. “I was nominated because I was stricken with cancer.”
But Robinson, Vanessa McCaskill, Dorothy Johnson and dozens of other African American women say their time in the Sista’s of Hope cancer support group has been inspiring, loving and prayerful. They call it a direct link to hope.
For many participants, it’s the camaraderie that’s especially important. That personal connection with other Black women who have suffered from cancer can be a lifeline.
“I always describe it like this: It’s like trying to explain color to a blind person. You can’t do it,” McCaskill said. “Your family wants to be there for you, and they can be there for you, but if they have not gone through any type of cancer treatments, it’s hard to explain it to them. So, the group for me let me know that I’m not in this by myself and there’s someone who can look over and see she looks just like me and knows what I’m going through. I love that.”
Robinson calls Sista’s of Hope “a place where I could come and pour my heart out, be myself, let my hair down because it’s women who understand what I’m going through, what I’m facing. And for someone who is just to embark (on treatments) it’s a wealth of information.”
Robinson said the group doesn’t tell newcomers how it should be. Rather, members tell the stories of their own journeys.
“Someone has come in and crying about losing their hair, and we’ve had women who literally start snatching their wigs off to show them that,” Robinson said. “Our motto is ‘Look Good, Feel Better,’ and they tell her this helped me. It’s OK to wear a wig. Some asked about (breast) reconstruction. That’s the level of privacy we have, just to be able to be free. It’s a safe haven.”
Sista’s of Hope spun off from the Sisters of Hope group so it could meet the needs of suburban Black women. Today its 60-plus members meet by Zoom due to the pandemic.
“We are very grateful, very honored and call it a privilege that the Cancer Support Center has opened its doors and allowed us to meet there,” Robinson said. Sista’s of Hope members can partake in any of the programs offered by CSC.
The 6 to 8 p.m. sessions on the third Wednesday of the month give participants a chance to share how they’re feeling and whether they have any news to share with the group.
“Some of us, like me 12 years out, I just say my name and the cancer I had, so the ones that really have questions have time to ask,” Johnson said.
“We always release with prayer,” McCaskill said. “In our community that’s what we know. We don’t try to push spirituality on anyone, but it just feels good when everyone goes around and tells a little bit about themselves and they all recognize that through the doctors God saved their lives. They acknowledge God and they give God praise.”
Robinson says cancer released her from a 9-to-5 routine 18 years ago to do the spiritual work of a cancer survivor. She calls it her 24/7 ministry.
“My motto is, if I can help one somebody through my cancer journey, then my living is not in vain,” she said. “So, every day that I get up, that’s my course of action. I just prayed that God would give me a door to walk through and once he opened that door, I walked through it.”