Southern black women with breast cancer lean on faith for healing

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- When we talk about breast cancer, we hope everyone with it survives. The problem is that some women have a greater chance of survival, while others continue to suffer to see the next day come.

Two women opened up to WHNT News 19 about their diagnosis and how their belief in God delivered -- two -- supernatural stories of survival.

God told her to examine her breasts 

The church was the first place in this country where black people were able to socialize under one roof and feel safe to worship in dance, in song, and through prayer.

"The first time I found out I had cancer, I actually was in prayer." Sheryl freeman was 39. That was twenty years ago.  She said she thought God was talking about the way she was living.

"I thought he was talking about my heart, but he really wasn't talking about my heart," she said.

Jessica Sanders was 32 when she found out in 2015. "They said this is stage four, which is a pretty bad prognosis," said Jessica. "I was thinking that I would not live to see my youngest daughter go to kindergarten."

Her youngest daughter born just the year before her breast cancer diagnosis.

Mortality rate for black women with breast cancer is high

Researchers say both black and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the death rate for black women is 40% higher. Death rates are worse for southern women due to factors contributing to the traditional southern diet, lack of exercise and education, and access to healthcare.

Sheryl Freeman and Jessica Sanders are both members of Pentecostal Lighthouse Church in Huntsville. The congregation is no stranger to breast cancer.

Let the church say, "yeah"

On the last Sunday of October -- Dr. Carolyn Taylor-Morns -- a church member and a physician who runs her own family practice came to preach.

"Women that are obese are more likely to get breast cancer. Now, that's hitting home, right? For a lot of us," said Dr. Taylor-Morns. "Some of these risk factors you can't do anything about. You can't change what family you were born into."

She said "knowledge is power, right?" and the church said, "yeah."

"Maybe we don`t have access to the care that we need," said Dr. Taylor-Morns. "Maybe we don`t get screened early enough."

Racial disparities exist in healthcare

Cancer Center of Huntsville oncologist Dr. Rachel Kruspe said early diagnosis is key.

"Diminished access to care is probably one of the largest factors that have to do with any racial disparity."

The lack of diversity in clinical trials could affect how breast cancer is diagnosed and treated in black women.

"Unfortunately, minorities have been underrepresented in clinical trials," said Kruspe, "and that's really what drives research and our knowledge about cancer in general."

Sometimes you feel alone fighting breast cancer

And maybe, the women battling breast cancer don`t talk about it.

Jessica said, "you feel lonely 'cause nobody else knows. I didn't know anyone else with stage four breast cancer."

Sheryl said, "I believe that most everybody that has -- have had cancer-- that's the first come to your mind -- Death."

Transforming their lives by renewing their minds

But these women are changing their perspective, shining a light on their survival, so others can find strength.

Sheryl said, "make sure you get your mammogram because it`s so important."

Through prayer and their church family - these women believe their faith can and will help heal them.

"I get to tell my story," said Jessica. "I get to witness to people, encourage them and hopefully they see hope in my situation."

Still living and beating death each day

"God reassured me and me being in him -- I would live and not die," said Sheryl.

Jessica said she believes "there are people who have passed on who would trade places with me...They'll say, 'we'll I`ll do it. I`ll go through chemotherapy every three weeks to have another year with my family.'"

The alter call

"This ribbon signifies breast cancer," said Dr. Carolyn Taylor-Morns. "It is there to support those who have survived and even the one who have not survived."

Don't have a fear about getting your breasts checked because putting it off could lead to a bigger problem.  The Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers free screenings for eligible women -- and men -- who do not have access to care.

The number is 877-252-3324.

"Thank you, Lord," said a voice by the end of service that Sunday.

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