By Dewanda Mitchell
Special Contributor to AFGE.org
I’ve been an AFGE member for almost 30 years and currently serve as senior vice president for AFGE Local 1061 in California. In 2004, my aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away. We were really close. The pain of losing her drove me to do everything in my power to help find a cure to the disease, including volunteering at the Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater California to help raise awareness and funds for research. Little did I know that six years later, I would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer myself.
Because my body was experiencing the same symptoms as my aunt – bloating, dizziness, constipation, and constant abdominal pain, I kind of knew that I had ovarian cancer before it was actually confirmed by my gynecologist. Still, when I received my confirmation about five days later, my body went numb, thinking, 'Lord, how can this be?' I sat there for about two hours trying to process what was actually happening.
But the ordeal didn’t stop there. Three years later, I was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
My life has never been the same ever since. I weigh 160 lbs. now, but I weighed only 110 lbs. when I went through the first rounds of chemotherapy. I’m still receiving chemo now. It’s not easy, and I’m taking one day at a time. Despite what I have been through and still going through, I have never allowed cancer to define or defeat me.
The only way I can move forward now is to dedicate myself to giving other women hope and finding a cure to this disease.
Early detection is essential for a successful treatment. I know this first hand because if it wasn't for my aunt, I wouldn't be here. She saved my life. Because of her, I was able to spot the symptoms and was eager to get involved and learn ways to help other women to beat what is known as the silent killer.
Over the years, I, along with other survivors, hosted an annual 5K Walk/Run, luncheons, and other events to help raise awareness. I’ve talked to college students and people at churches and various organizations. I’ve met many amazing women, some of whom have since passed away, including these two sisters who had both been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My purpose now is to help other people, to be there for them. If I can save one woman's life, then I am happy.
Earlier this year, I was elected president of the Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater California. Ovarian cancer is a leading cause of death among women, and it takes money to help find a cure to this disease.
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, I’m hosting a Teal beyond the Stars Ovarian Cancer Awareness Fundraiser and will sincerely appreciate your support. No donation is too big or too small. All proceeds are tax deductible and will go to helping us raise awareness, educate the public, and raise money for much needed research in a wide variety of ways. If you would like to support me and others in our fight against cancer, please click here to make a donation. Or you can send a check to:
Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater California
P.O. Box 40035
Studio City, CA 91604
More than 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer this year. That’s why we will be in Washington, D.C. in July to talk to members of Congress about a bill that would require health care carriers to cover the CA-125 blood test for ovarian cancer. This crucial step will save lives as early detection increases the odds of surviving cancer.
I want to thank my AFGE family. The first call I made when I found out about my cancer was to my local president Ann Perkins-Barkley, whom I am very close to. I truly thank God for her and my other fellow AFGE brothers and sisters in my local, national leaders, district leaders and others who have shown me so much love and support through my cancer journey. It's still not over yet. I still have a long way to go.
Thank you in advance for your support. I believe it has to start somewhere. I won't stop, can't stop until a cure is found.
If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact me at (818) 985-0288 or [email protected].
* Dewanda is a retired 20-year Army veteran who served as a military police and correctional officer before joining the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the VA, she was the first African American chief of police for the VA Outpatient Clinic Downtown L.A. in 1993. She has two children and two grandchildren. Despite juggling many hats while trying to take care of herself, Dee is energetic, passionate, and inspiring. She frequently dresses in teal, wears teal lipstick, and ends her conversations with “Have a great teal day!”