A Conversation Worth Having

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Party With A Purpose!

Richmond Police Department Supporters of Cancer Survivors

During the month of October, if you got off an elevator at police headquarters you would immediately see a mannequin covered in cards to form a tasteful dress adjacent to a table of literature with a vase full of pink flowers.  You may not recognize the importance of the setting until you have to answer one important question.

What do you do after finding out you have a life-threatening disease? Deborah Jackson, a survivor of multiple cancer diagnoses, says, “Scream, cry, do what you have too, but remember you are not alone.” Deborah has an inspiring story of faith and courage whose story intertwines with the caring people of the Financial Services Department. Together, with help from other cancer survivors and volunteers they created the stunning display and hosted a “Party with a Purpose Pancake Breakfast.”

The complete story describing how the display came about would fill a book. Deborah’s courageous journey to battle cancer and educate people began at age 43 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. At age 50, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and a mass in her brain at age 57. She endured 50 hours of chemo a week while fighting the colorectal cancer. Fighting through the cancer battles and telling her story she continues to inspire and educate others.  She volunteers with Sisters Network of Virginia to educate females and males about cancer and the importance of being proactive about one’s health. Her advice to everyone is simple:

“We need to be proactive as far as our health is concerned; stop being afraid and step up to the plate.” For women she says, “We need to do our monthly breast exam. We need to get our clinical exams, and we need to have our mammogram done when we reach that age. If we have a history, we need to let physicians know so they can have a baseline test to make sure we are on the right track.” As far as the mammogram test, she says. “A temporary discomfort can save your life” – it did for Deborah.

Men are equally reluctant to get tested for cancer.  Deborah has advice for men also, “Men get cancer, even breast cancer; my dad had it.” Her advice for men is straight and to the point, “Colorectal cancer is no joke. Men need to get checked. Put your pride in your pocket – we are talking about your health.”

I asked Deborah how she was able to cope with one life-threatening diagnosis after another. She credited her faith, her family, and said the women in the Richmond Police Financial Services Department were amazing. They sent her cards, called regularly, came over to visit, and brought her things when needed. She took a breath and described the importance of having people around who care for you and how easy it is to become depressed, “When you have a support system in place, your stress level goes down. You have a sense of relief, knowing somebody does care. It makes a difference.

For Brenda Woodson and Carol Jones from the Richmond Police Department, giving back is not a job requirement; is it something that comes naturally. Brenda gives credit to Mr. William Friday, then the Head of Finance for the Richmond Police Department, for encouraging everyone in the Financial Management department to become active in the community. Without fanfare they have done extraordinary things through their volunteer work outside of the department, however, finding out about Deborah and others in the department who were suffering from cancer hit home. These were not strangers; they were people they knew. Some in the Financial Services Unit had already lost family members to cancer or other health problems. Working in a small unit, and learning of Deborah’s illness, they set about to learn more about the medical diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments. They vowed to help those who needed it and offer support for those who reluctant to ask for help. When asked how important it is for members of RPD and their extended families to come together, Brenda emphatically says, it’s extremely important. “There are many opportunities to come together and show compassion for someone fighting cancer. We have to make time because there are so many women and men fighting for their lives.
Volunteering and providing opportunities to educate people are only the start of the story leading to the Party with a Purpose – Pancake Breakfast. Brenda describes the history of their efforts like this:

In the first year, we set up a table in the break room with pamphlets, ribbons, and news articles. Each week in October brought in fruit Danishes, juice and coffee, and other items to share with information on Breast Cancer Awareness other employees. A “Fight like a Girl” luncheon was held for three ladies to honor their fight.
The Party With A Purpose – Pancake Breakfast is a great time to meet up, catch up, and laugh with fellow members of the Richmond Police Family. One may think the broader meaning of the breakfast is education. And to a large extent that is correct. However, if you look through your heart lens, you see the Pancake Breakfast is about connections and hope. If you are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, there is someone at RPD who will be there for you. There is no need to feel alone. If you ask for help someone will be there for you. I once asked Deborah Jackson about the educational outreach she continues to provide, with a smile, and she simply said: “It’s my passion.” In between laughing with her team and serving people at the pancake breakfast, Brenda Woodson turned and said, “It’s a discussion that needs to be had.” She then turned, walked back to the table, and continued to serve other people.
There have been three Pancake Breakfasts, and the proceeds have been donated to Sisters Network Central Virginia, American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen CEVA. The Financial Management team continues to help those in need through shared leave and other fundraisers. Deborah Jackson, Brenda Woodson, Carol Jones, and the rest of the Financial Management Team are there for you. If you are ever receive a difficult diagnosis, please remember: You are not alone.

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