Teresa Tellez-Giron (l-r), Frances Huntley-Cooper and Sharyl Kato each had to
deal with a form of
cancer while carrying on their personal and professional
lives.
Three Women of Color Talk about
Overcoming Cancer
Dealing with The Big “C”
my sister that I knew my body and that something else was going on. And then they did an additional test. They called me at work and told me,
‘Guess what? You have cancer.’ Just like that. I was working at my computer and they made a phone call. They are like, ‘We have the results
back. And you have cancer.’ I had endometrial cancer. I wanted to run out of the office and just find my sister or my mom. I needed support.
When I ran out to try to talk with them, I said, ‘No, I don’t want to talk with them. I don’t want to give them anymore pain. I want to keep it to
myself.’ But then my sister found out. I didn’t want to cause any pain to my family. I left work. I told my supervisor. She was the first one to
learn. She was very nice and supportive. She said, ‘Just go home.’”

As a care giver, Tellez-Giron didn’t want to tell anyone because she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. She was the one who helped people
with their problems and it felt uncomfortable having the roles reversed.

“If anything is going to happen to me, I don’t want my kids to know either at first,” Tellez-Giron said about her initial thoughts. “We had enough
things happen in the family that we hadn’t completely healed from. Now it is me causing some pain back to the family. It was very difficult. I
think the main thing was that I had a very good circle of friends. I talked to Eva and Shiva because I needed their support. And then I started
talking to other people. Sometimes pain makes you get closer to people. It was last year when I was diagnosed. Now when I went to get an
MRI, the first thing was leaving denial behind. And then, I thought, ‘If I die, who is going to take care of my kids?’ That is the only thought that
came to me. I’m not young, but I am young enough to know that I still have a lot of things that I have to do for my children. And then I found out
the day I needed an MRI that it had spread in different areas. That in my mind is like, ‘That’s it.’ I got the MRI and the person who administered
the MRI told me that I really needed to go see my doctor for the results. I just said in my mind, ‘That’s it.’ And then I had to have a complete
hysterectomy because they thought it was going to spread outside of it. I knew that I had to tell my friends because I wanted them to know how
much I loved them and how much they meant to me. And then I started talking to others.”

Frances Huntley-Cooper’s breast cancer was discovered during a routine physical.

“The doctor thought she felt something,” Huntley-Cooper recalled. “And then I was referred for biopsies out-of-the-office, to several different
clinics, UW and Wildwood. The biopsies indicated that I had DCIS, which was breast cancer, stage zero. They caught it early. I, like Teresa, got
the phone call in my car. I had a rental car and I was dropping it off. It was about 4 p.m. They always try to tell you that they will call you before
the weekend so you don’t have to sweat it out through the weekend. It was Friday and I hadn’t gotten the phone call. I figured there was nothing
wrong. No phone call meant good news because there is no history of breast cancer in my family. Al, my husband, had asked me if I had heard
anything and told me I should check in. I said that I didn’t need to call because if there was something, they would let me know. I didn’t have
any paper or pen. I got the call like Teresa. They said, ‘We’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is you have breast cancer. The good
news is we caught it early. And they did a better job trying to explain what I had and I was nervous. ‘I don’t have anything to write this down
with and I can’t remember all of this.’ They said, ‘Google it over the weekend. We’ll send you a packet of information. And make sure that you
make an appointment ASAP.’ That was how they handled it. They gave me the address to a website where I could find information. That was
good news so that I could look at that over the weekend and not stress too much. If you have it, you have it. But I was just really surprised
because I just knew that I didn’t have breast cancer because it doesn’t run in my family. For African Americans, a lot of statistics indicate that
there is a first time in the family for breast cancer. I was 60-years-old at the time. The average age for African Americans to be diagnosed with
breast cancer is 59-years-old compared to white women, who are 63-years-old. So I was a year past the 59-year-old mark. I didn’t know that at
the time.”

Sharyl Kato also was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which she found out about during the early stages.

“I was at the doctor’s office in the clinic when I found out,” Kato said. “At first, my reaction was disbelief. When you have that “C” word, I felt
betrayed by my body. I thought this just couldn’t happen. But as those phases go on, you do have to decide how you are going to deal with it. I
just remember my mom who went totally deaf in Chicago in her self-ailing. She convinced my grand nephew who was a teenager at the time to
make reservations for her to fly to Madison. They had no choice then and my brother drove her to the airport and she came just to be with me. I
just knew that feistiness was important at the time when you are really at those kind of primitive dangers of life where you aren’t sure what is
going to happen in the end.”

Kato is also a care giver who wasn’t used to being taken care of. But she learned that reaching out to others was important in coping with
different aspects of the disease.

“I found out that people I’ve known for years and years who are close had it or had some other kind of cancer,” Kato said. “And I think it was
more cultural that you don’t want to burden others and there is this privacy. And I always thought it was the Japanese way of not sharing
because I’ve had aunts who have been sick and I never knew. They never shared that. So it was more a matter of how I developed the stress
in coping where you either freeze or you fight or you run. There is a Stanford study on this that women seek other women to get support and talk
about it. And that is really what I did.”

Most importantly, all three were empowered enough to be engaged in their own diagnosis and treatment.

“I knew my body,” Tellez-Giron said. “This was not right. Something else was going on. Otherwise I would never had been assertive enough to
say, ‘I want more testing. This is not right.’”
By Jonathan Gramling

The word cancer can strike fear in the heart of anyone who is
diagnosed with it. Fear and thoughts of extensive involvement
with the healthcare system and of one’s own mortality often
take center stage at first before a game plan is put in place to
deal with and overcome the deadly disease. And while we are
all susceptible to many forms of cancer, women are also
susceptible to breast cancer — although men can contract it
too — and endometrial cancer, which begins in the uterus.

And the burden of fighting the disease can be especially
difficult for women of color because so much is expected of
them in the family and the community. The Capital City Hues sat
down with Teresa Tellez-Giron, Frances Huntley-Cooper and
Sharyl Kato to discuss how they overcame their bouts with
cancer.

“I started getting sick and then I went to the doctor,” said Tellez-
Giron who contracted endometrial cancer. “They didn’t know
what was going on. So I just pushed a little bit more and
I told