When Darlene Matthews was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer on August 28, 2001, she had only seen the “ugly side” of the disease.
“My aunt passed away from breast cancer so that was my greatest fear in life. I had never been sick before so it really took me for a loop when I was diagnosed,” Darlene said. “With my support team and faith in God, I survived and can know see another side.”
To help other African American women in her community see the other side of breast cancer, Darlene is being honored with our January Volunteer of the Month title for her tireless outreach and work spreading breast cancer awareness throughout her community.
“It used to be that no one in our community talked about breast cancer and you were almost ashamed if you were diagnosed,” Darlene said. “Now, everyone talks about it and that’s the key. We talk about it and remind each other. If you’re diagnosed, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s not like you did anything wrong. The more people talk about it, the more people understand. I keep working hard until it clicks.”
And work hard she does! Darlene’s Beauty All Over Salon on Cleveland Avenue in Linden is the breast cancer outreach center of the community. The first thing you see in the salon is a life-size mural of Darlene in her Race for the Cure outfit from 2011 – a pink afro wig and t-shirt she creates for all her team members. Darlene started out doing the Race with her daughter and herself. Then, her first team had less than ten people. In 2011, she had 167 men and women on her team and she hopes to get 250 for the 20th Annual Komen Columbus Race for the Cure on May 19.
Throughout the year Darlene always has educational materials on hand for anyone who needs more information about breast cancer, and is a constant sight and source of information at her church and community festivals.
“I just try to get women to understand and the more involvement we have of women in the African American community, the more they can help others and the better off everyone is,” Darlene said.
Darlene looks forward to the Race for the Cure every year as a way to get people involved in a fun activity. She creates a theme for each year and designs t-shirts and costumes for all the members to wear. Last year’s theme was “Un-Mask the Cure” and team members wore colorful shirts and Mardi Gras masks. Darlene begins registering people for her team in January and hopes to increase her team’s fundraising this year.
She’s also always hoping to increase her team members’ knowledge of breast cancer, and works hard to dispel many rumors about breast cancer that circulate in her community.
“The lack of knowledge about breast cancer blows me away,” Darlene said. “I just keep going until everyone knows their risk and knows about breast cancer.”
Darlene first became aware of Komen Columbus shortly after her diagnosis and surgery.
“I was having trouble getting back to myself – both mentally and physically – and I attended an exercise class at Mt. Carmel East funded by Komen. That really, really helped me because you hear stories of other women going through the same things you are. You don’t feel like you’re alone anymore,” Darlene said. “It really helped me get back on track. Now I try to be there for other women going through the same thing so they can have someone they identify with so they don’t have to be so afraid of the unknown.”
Darlene’s daughter Terina re-iterated her mother’s motivation and dedication to increasing breast cancer awareness in her community. “I continue to remain proud of my mom and all that she has accomplished while fighting this disease and attempting to do her part to educate others,” Terina said. “When I was recognized as one of the Outstanding OSU Alumni in 2009, my speech clearly communicated that it was MY MOM who I was most proud of and it was HER spirit, dedication, motivation to push to overcome obstacles that continue to push me to give back to my community. When my mom sets her mind on something, she is relentless in ensuring that it is accomplished.”
We are grateful of Darlene’s hard work increasing breast cancer awareness in the African American community and look forward to seeing what she comes up with for this year’s Race. Congratulations Darlene!