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Breast cancer survivor says God’s command to get mammogram saved life

Bridgette Hempstead founded Seattle's Cierra Sisters after a her own diagnosis of breast cancer. (Photo courtesy Bridgette Hempstead)

Bridgette Hempstead is used to talking to God, but he doesn’t usually talk back. That is, until the day she swears a message from the Lord saved her life, and inspired her to create a Seattle foundation helping many others detect and treat breast cancer.

Hempstead says she was sitting on her couch with her young daughter when she heard a voice say “get a mammogram and do it now!”

“It was loud. It was so loud I turned around and looked around the room wondering if I was the only one here.”

She immediately made an appointment and went to see her doctor. But the doctor told her because she was only 34 years old, had no family history and was African American, she didn’t need the test.

“The doctor told me to come back when I was 50,” she says.

Hempstead refused to take no for an answer, insisting on the test.

“When God starts to talk to you, you better move.”

The doctor begrudgingly approved. On her 35th birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and told she needed surgery immediately.

She was stunned, and then grew frustrated as she found little information, support or resources for African American women afflicted with the disease.

“All I saw on TV was all of the races and all of the hooplah about breast cancer and there was no one that looked like me, and nothing for me,” she says.

Even as she began her own treatment, she created Cierra Sisters, an organization founded to support African women faced with the disease.

“We have to be educated. We have to know about checking ourselves. We have to know about getting mammograms.”

Hempstead says African American women have a statistically higher mortality rate than any other race, yet still have far fewer resources than other groups.

“That’s not fair,” she says.

Cierra Sisters provides a wide range of support and services, include support groups, education and referrals to doctors, nutritionists and other professionals.

Hempstead says they’re saving lives. Last year, a woman with breast cancer called her to say her doctor had told her there was nothing more he could do for her.

“Her doctor said, ‘Go home and get your final papers and everything in order.'”

Hempstead wasn’t about to give up. The group hooked the woman up with another doctor, who tried a new regimen. It worked.

“One year later, she’s running up and down the court refereeing basketball. She made an amazing recovery instead of preparing for a funeral,” says Hempstead.

Cierra Sisters is a completely volunteer-run organization. Hempstead continues working as a teacher at South Seattle Community College in the Allied Health program, while devoting countless hours to the cause.

“We’re not doing it for the money. We’re doing it for the health of it,” she laughs.

They could use the money. The organization provides free mammograms and other vital services, and relies exclusively on donations.

“We’re a community and we’re dedicated to supporting our sister. We have the power against the effects of breast cancer,” she says.

As for Hempstead, she was given a clean bill of health after her initial surgery and treatment 17 years ago. She recently had a recurrence, but says she is doing well and the cancer is again in remission. She credits her sisters and God with her recovery.

Cierra Sisters will host a free conference Saturday, Oct. 11 at the New Holly Gathering Hall in South Seattle featuring leading health care experts and patient advocates.

The stations of Bonneville Seattle, The Seattle Seahawks, Les Schwab Tire Centers and Carter Subaru are proud to honor Cierra Sisters as our Charity of the Month.

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