Shirley Dilbert: Surviving Breast Cancer Thanks to Support from My Community

Age: 63Detroit, Michigan

I have been diagnosed with breast cancer twice, once in 2012 and then again in 2016. After my second diagnosis, I had trouble with insurance coverage and finding a doctor who would listen to my needs. I started to spiral downward. Support from my family, church, and a national African American breast cancer survivorship organization called Sisters Network Inc. helped me pay my medical bills, find a doctor whom I trusted, and discover the strength to get through the experience. Today, I keep a positive attitude, live a healthy life, and help other women navigate a breast cancer diagnosis.

It all started in January 2012. I was called back to the clinic a few days after my regular annual mammogram because it had shown that there was a tumor in my right breast. I was devastated. All I could think was that I was going to die and what would my daughter do without me. I turned to my oldest sister for support because she had survived a breast cancer diagnosis a few years earlier. She was able to calm me down and help me through the process.

After a number of tests, the doctors told me that the tumor was no bigger than a dime and that it was not the type of cancer that would spread through my body. My official diagnosis was stage I breast cancer. I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatment.

After the radiation was done, I went on with my life. I thought that I would be cancer free forever.

Then, four years later, my routine annual mammogram showed a tumor in my left breast. It was a shock, but I felt less traumatized than I had been by the first diagnosis.

Unfortunately, this is when things began to go wrong for me. First, my doctor recommended a mastectomy, but the idea of losing my breast completely scared and upset me. I also ran into problems with my insurance; the doctor I was seeing performed surgery at a hospital that was not covered by my insurance. I tried to switch my care to another hospital and to change insurance, but the advice I received left me with no insurance coverage at all for several months, until open enrollment season. These two things put me under extreme stress, and I began to lose my hair, lose weight, and spiral down toward depression.

I reached out to my church for support. They not only gave me comfort when I needed it, but they also helped me with my medical bills by holding fundraisers. I also received support from a coworker who was a fellow cancer survivor. She was involved in the Sisters Network Inc. and connected me with an amazing doctor at another local cancer center. Dr. Lisa Newman called me and told me that the cancer was not aggressive and that I had plenty of time before I needed surgery, so I traveled to my granddaughter’s graduation in South Carolina without worrying that I was wasting precious time in my fight against the cancer. Dr. Newman also reassured me that a lumpectomy, rather than a mastectomy, would be a good treatment option.

I had the lumpectomy in July 2016. This was followed by more radiation.

Fortunately, since then I have been cancer free and I feel wonderful. I love to play sports, dance, and work out. My friends call me the “Energizer Bunny.”

I joined the Sisters Network Inc. and, through that, help to increase awareness of breast cancer in the African American community. I also help other African American women diagnosed with breast cancer; I guide them through their experience and provide hope by telling them that I am a two-time survivor.