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Winning With Women Wednesday: An Interview With Dorothy Reed, Co-Founder & President of the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey

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Winning With Women

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Dorothy Reed, Co-Founder & President, Sisters Network of Central New Jersey

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and on this Winning With Women Wednesday we have a special guest interview, Dorothy Reed, Co-Founder & President of the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey and a breast cancer survivor. Dorothy Reed became a breast cancer survivor in 1998. After a mastectomy and treatments, Dorothy dedicated herself to spreading the gospel of early detection in the African American community. In the absence of local support or culturally sensitive resources for African American women diagnosed with the disease, Dorothy formed the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey (SNCNJ) in 2000 with three other breast cancer survivors. SNCNJ is an affiliate chapter of Sisters Network Inc., a National African American Breast Cancer Survivorships Organization based in Houston, TX. 

Active in her community, Dorothy’s services includes board membership on:

• St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Community Public Education
• Robert Wood Johnson Univ. Hospital Community Relations Committee
• NJCEED Statewide Cancer Coalition

Dorothy spearheads five SNCNJ’s outreach projects with annual events aimed at educating, supporting and bringing awareness to women with breast cancer: the 5K Breast Cancer Awareness Race/Walk 4 Life is the largest event. She facilitates monthly survivors’ meetings and frequently guest-speaks at corporate workshops, senior citizen complexes, auxiliaries, sororities, churches and schools.

On a national level, Dorothy is one of the original advocates for HR Bill 5116, the Dean and Betty Gallo Cancer Patient Compassion Act. She has spent extensive time on Capitol Hill with the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She is an active participant in the Komen Foundation’s letter-writing campaign for free mammograms. And in May 2005, Dorothy was selected to participate on the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program committee for the U. S. Army Medical Research Command.

Dorothy has received numerous honors and awards including an appearance in a 2005 National Television Commercial Campaign by Astra Zeneca “If You Were My Sister” and was selected in 2006 as one of Lifetime Hero’s by Lifetime Television. She retired from Telcordia Technologies Inc. (formerly AT&T) after 30 years of service. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Pillar College; is a member of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, Somerset; and resides in Piscataway, New Jersey with her husband James.

Get to Know Dorothy

1. When were you diagnosed and at what age?

Diagnosed in October 1998 at age 45

2. What stage were you diagnosed with?

Stage 2 breast cancer

3. How was the cancer initially detected? (i.e. through a BSE, a CBE or an annual mammogram)

I was doing my monthly breast self-examine when I felt the lump.

4. How did you feel when you first received the news?

Devastated, my legs were weak and I could hardly leave the doctor’s office.

5. Is there a family history of breast cancer?

No family history.

6. Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it? If so, who were they?

I did not have a support network, but I quickly built one. I spoke to everyone I knew and eventually met three other survivors and we formed the Sisters Network of Central NJ because of the lack of culturally sensitive resources for African American women. We are dying more and yet, there were no resources at most support group meetings I attended at local hospitals.

7. Tell me about your treatment process.

Routine – surgery, chemo, radiation. I started surgery in Oct. 1998 and in January 1999 began chemo. My last radiation treatment was October 1999. My red/white cell count stayed so low my treatment would be postponed. I had to have monthly procrit shots and give myself shots.
Surgery – I cried because I did not feel sick and maybe they had mixed up my film and I really didn’t have
breast cancer. A breast cancer survivor visited me and said – “Do the surgery I know many women who didn’t and they are not here today”. These words made me want to fight for my life.
Chemo – Afraid of losing my hair, cried, “What will I look like”.
Radiation – Extreme fatigue

8. Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?

I attended support group meetings at local hospitals.

9. Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?

I had to give myself shots every month because of my low cell count. I thought I could not give myself a needle but I learned. My faith also gave me strength and courage. I prayed many times a day and repeated Psalm 118:17 “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord”.

10. What message and resources would you like to provide women in the community?

You do not have to die from breast cancer. However, you must take charge of your health. Get your yearly mammograms, clinical exams and do your breast self-examines or be aware of your breast. During my treatment I heard the statistics for African American (AA) women – AA women have a lower 5 year survival rate, AA women have a 41% higher death rate, AA women have fewer mammograms and they have abnormal mammograms, the 5 year survival for AA women is 78% compared to 90% for Caucasian women.

I wanted to do something to lower the statistics and find out why AA women were dying. This is the reason Sisters Network of Central New Jersey was formed – we hold monthly support group meetings, provide free educational programs, bring awareness to the community with our yearly 5K Breast cancer walk, and provide financial services to women that qualify. We are saving lives but AA women and low income women still have the highest death rate.

Visit our website – www.sncnj.org for additional information.

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