Triple Step Toward the Cure founder and CEO Lori Flowers contributed this TNBC Aware blog post about her late sister, Sheryl, who inspired her to start the triple-negative breast cancer nonprofit to educate, encourage, and empower women diagnosed with the disease.
Cancer does not run in my family. But general health and longevity do. Both sets of my great-grandmothers lived to be almost 100 and were largely independent even into their last days. My grandmother is 97 and sharper than many half her age and both she and my mother look younger than their years. I always attributed this to our Caribbean heritage. So naturally I expected that genetics along with the salsa dancing and the patacones we grew up eating would help carry my sister, Sheryl, and I into ripe-old age. However, that legacy was not enough to protect my beautiful and brilliant sister who was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in January 2008 at age 40.
I had no idea what was required of me but I immediately went into action mode, and assumed a role that was a constant mix of caregiver, therapist, comedian, and cheerleader. Despite the circumstances, there were many wonderful moments and lessons learned. As the eternal “little sister,” I now had an opportunity to step up for my shero.
So I did my best to make her laugh, to make her comfortable when she was in pain, and to understand when she wanted to be alone. I organized impromptu “parades” where we marched around the living room wearing silly outfits, shopping trips, and movie marathons. When she went back to work, I sent her ridiculous emails and got her addicted to Facebook, which she simultaneously cursed and thanked me for. If she wanted to talk about things I found scary or disagreed with, I learned to just listen and respect her process. And I did my best to be strong for her when we received the news that the cancer returned.
Sheryl, herself was a caregiver of sorts. Personally and professionally, she was always making sure people had the right information and resources to improve their lives. So when she passed away, much like being a caregiver, I had no clue about the grief process. I did know, however, that for me it had to include meaningful action.
I knew there were other women struggling with this diagnosis without the support system that Sheryl was blessed to have. This led me to form Triple Step Toward the Cure along with my mom and our friend and TNBC survivor, Louisa Gloger. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and empower women diagnosed with TNBC. We wanted to help ensure that women who were fighting this didn’t feel isolated and were able to get some assistance with their living expenses. This is the best way I know how to honor my sister’s memory and celebrate her generous spirit. Even our logo was designed with her in mind. The shoe logo represents femininity, strength, and a determination to keep “stepping” forward no matter what. This year, Triple Step will celebrate five years of stepping forward.
We are all caregivers in some form and our continued support of the TNBC community is critical. This TNBC Awareness Day, as we highlight the need for better treatment and a cure, let’s remember to celebrate everything this disease cannot take away – femininity, strength, hope. Let’s also try to listen better, laugh more, and cherish every moment throughout the process. I know I do. Thank you, Sheryl.
Lori Flowers is the co-founder and CEO of Triple Step Toward the Cure. After losing her sister and only sibling to triple-negative breast cancer in 2009, Lori vowed to use this personal experience, along with her professional background in social justice and health advocacy, to help raise awareness about triple-negative disease and provide support to people who are living with this disease. Follow Triple Step Toward the Cure on Twitter at @TripleStep4Cure.