Toni Charles, diagnosed with breast cancer, said Black women must become more aggressive and invest in themselves so that they can improve their health. DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./


Resident battling breast cancer will share her story at  ‘Making  Strides Against Cancer’ walk.


Toni Charles was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, and a second time back in June.

Charles, a former medical transcription supervisor at Halifax Medical Center, will be one of the speakers on Saturday at the “Making Strides Against Cancer” Walk-A-Thon. The event will be held at Riverfront Park in Daytona Beach beginning at 9 a.m.

“I am going to try to walk. I’ll probably just walk partially this year. I will tell my story and try to empower those listening. I want to help those who are in the journey endure. I plan to speak words of empowerment and to educate others,” Charles told the Daytona Times.

Raising awareness
The goal of the walk is to raise $300,000 for breast cancer awareness, research, treatment and services. Last year, $290,000 was raised.

The event consists of a 2.5 mile walk. There will be guest speakers, music, games and entertainment.

“The event is all about the survivors and being there to cheer them on. It’s free for the community. We invite everyone to come out and take a part of it. It’s about raising awareness, said Leslie Castillo, senior manager of Community Development for the American Cancer Society – Volusia/Flagler.

“We don’t want anyone to walk alone. It’s fun. You want to come out and be a part of it.’’

25 and growing
The American Cancer Society sponsors the event, which is part of a larger nationwide campaign. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

This year’s theme is “Share Your Hope! No One Walks Alone!’’ Over the 25-year history, the local event has blossomed.

“It has definitely grown in amount of money raised and participation especially from 2008 up until last year. Last year, Hurricane Matthew affected the turnout,” Castillo said.

“This is the largest single day walk in all of Volusia County. The money raised helps patients. Everything that we do has an impact both indirectly and directly on our community. It’s through research and local programs and services is how we help the cancer patients.”

‘Towards a cure’
Charles said it’s important that the community get behind these events.

“The statistics for cancer, especially breast cancer, is on the rise. The way they treated women in the past, there were higher death rates. Death rates are now down,” she explained.

“The funding has helped with research and treatment that helps keep us alive. We are also working towards a cure, which is important overall.”

Message for sisters
Valencia Robinson, also a cancer survivor, is the former event committee chair. She now serves as an honorary committee member.

“I’ve been involved in the walk since I was diagnosed in 2006. I continue to speak at several events sponsored by the American Cancer Society,” she told the Times.

“African-American women still have the highest mortality rate of any other subgroup, so it is very important for us to do our self-breast exams and our mammograms.’’

One in three
In 2017, among U.S. women, it’s estimated that there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer, 63,410 new cases of breast carcinoma in situ, and 40,610 breast cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

While breast cancer incidence rates are highest in non-Hispanic White women, breast cancer death rates are highest in African-American women.

Castillo said the disease affects one in three women. “It impacts a very large population,” she remarked.

No extreme measures
Black women have also addressed the disease differently.

“What I find is that when our White sisters get diagnosed, they go through the extreme measures. They will change eating habits, exercise and look for alternative treatments,” Charles related.

“Our Black sisters don’t exercise, keep eating the same things and won’t go through extreme measures. Some do, but many don’t. Many just believe what the doctor says is the cure, but don’t invest in their own health to find other measures that will help heal the cancer. We must become more aggressive and invest in ourselves so that we can improve our health,” she added.

Tell somebody
Oftentimes, Black women also will hide the disease, she noted.

“We don’t share that we have cancer. We could be helping others who are going through it, but we don’t communicate and share. We need to open our mouths,” stated Charles.

A family illness
It affects not only its victims and survivors but their families.

“It has transformed our home. All my children are young adults. They are attentive. My youngest daughter took it hard at first. My husband took medical leave; he has really helped take care of me,” Charles shared.

“It’s taken a toll on the family but brought us together. It was a shock at first, but once I came out of the fire, now everyone knows that mom is fighting.’’

She added, “The experiences have taught me to endure. I’ve learned to fight again. When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it’s not a quick treatment. It’s something that won’t be cured overnight. I learned to put my hope in God that He will heal me again.”

For more information, call 386-274-3274 or visit www.MakingStridesWalk.org/VolusiaFlagler.


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