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Fighting cancer through art

Gina Carter-Simmers durin g the last day of her first round of chemotherapy at the Hederman Cancer Clinic in October.

Gina Carter-Simmers durin g the last day of her first round of chemotherapy at the Hederman Cancer Clinic in October.

By LISA MONTI

Gina Carter-Simmers will tell you the exact moment she received her breast cancer diagnosis. It was Aug. 10, 2016. And also the date — Aug. 4 — when she got the call from her doctor with the preliminary results. And the day she started chemo — Aug. 26.

Carter-Simmers can recount such details about her ongoing fight with the disease but she’d rather talk about the Beauty of Cancer photo exhibit she’s working on that will open Feb. 16 at the Mississippi Museum of Art. It will feature photos of 28 women who are going through their own cancer battle.

“We chose February for the display because it’s National Cancer Prevention Month. It’s my hope the exhibit will scare women into having yearly mammograms at the appropriate age and perform monthly self examinations,” she said.

She said African-American women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate of any other ethnicity because they are getting diagnosed at later stages. “We are so busy taking care of others, we neglect our own health,” she said.  “But through early detection, breast cancer is curable.”

The photos in the exhibit will be taken by four photographers from Jackson State University, where Carter-Simmers is the general manager of WJSU Public Radio.

So far, she’s enlisted 12 women to “show their scars and help to prevent others from getting this disease. They’re going to see scars but people will see there is beauty in those flaws,” she said.

Carter-Simmers, 48, has spent her award-winning career working in public broadcasting, including the last 12 years at Jackson State. A native of Tuskegee, Ala., she has experience in fundraising, producing, hosting and membership recruitment at several stations around the country.

She had been working with a trainer and had lost 40 pounds when she found out she had breast cancer.

“It was the worse news I ever heard in my life,” she said.

After she discovered lumps under her arm, she did a self breast exam and made an appointment with her gynecologist. She had a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy before learning that she had stage 3 breast cancer. She started five months of chemo on Aug. 26 and will then undergo surgery to remove the tumor and then radiation.

“My doctor said you have to have a positive attitude to defeat breast cancer,” she said. Her healthy exercise regime, along with her strong faith and positive outlook, have also aided in her cancer battle, Carter-Simmers said.

“I still go to work when I can and I’m also working on part one of a documentary about my cancer battle,”  she said. The goal is to tell her story on public radio and television stations and online. “I have the best platform to make people aware of this deadly disease,” she said.

The one thing nobody asks is, “Is there anything good that has come from having cancer? “There is,” she said. “I’m  mentally stronger, and I’ve even learned to laugh at myself. There’s healing in laughter.”

Carter-Simmers said cancer also “brings out the traits in us that we find beautiful. There’s nothing more beautiful than confidence.”

The treatment causes severe muscle and joint pain and loss of appetite, but she said, “God made me strong and tough for my journey.”

Her two younger sisters are her primary caretakers and they and her brother, who all live out of state, were with her for her first chemo treatment.  Friends and colleagues have been invaluable with their help and support, she said. Some volunteer to sit with her during the two-hour chemo treatments and pick up her medications.

“I didn’t realize how much I was loved,” Carter-Simmers said. “My friends and co-workers make sure I stay motivated through their prayers, kind words and home visits. Thank God I was in Jackson working at Jackson State when I got my diagnosis.”

INFO BOX

The Beauty of Cancer photo exhibit presented by WJSU and JSU Cares opens during National Cancer Prevention Month, Feb. 16, 2017, at Jackson’s Mississippi Museum of Art.

 

Organizers seek 16 women of all ages and ethnicities who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer and are undergoing treatment to visually share their journey through this traveling display.  Participation deadline is Oct. 31.  For details, call Gina Carter-Simmers at 601-503-5239.

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