Local cancer survivors rally together for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk

Jovelyn Clemins was helped by daughter Jenifer in her battle against cancer. Both women plan to walk in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event.

Jovelyn Clemins was helped by daughter Jenifer in her battle against cancer. Both women plan to walk in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. Photo By Submitted photo

May 6, 2016

For Suzanne Wickersham, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Milwaukee event scheduled for May 7 is extremely personal.

Wickersham was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2015 when she saw a doctor for her first-ever mammogram — about two years after her 40th birthday.

It was something Wickersham said she put off for some time. She never dreamed the results of her first exam of that sort would result in breast cancer. Two surgeries and six weeks of radiation later, Wickersham, a Milwaukee resident who received treatment at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, is now cancer free.

She said a big support while she battled cancer was the American Cancer Society. In fact, a call to the organization for more information was one of the first things she did after learning of her diagnosis, she said.

It was a no-brainer for Wickersham to sign up for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Milwaukee event, presented by Kohl's. The annual walk is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. May 7 at Veterans Park in Milwaukee, 1010 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The walk aims to unite communities to support each other and to honor those touched by the disease, while raising awareness and funds to combat the disease.

Wickersham, who participated in the walk last year, said the event is especially important to those who support loved ones dealing with cancer. The walk serves as a support system for all those involved in the treatment process, she said.

"I raised $1,00 in just under two weeks before the event last year," she said with a laugh.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S. and in Wisconsin, according to information from the American Cancer Society. This year in Wisconsin, it's estimated 4,730 women will be diagnosed and 710 women will die from breast cancer.

Among the many walkers showing their support and strength Saturday morning will be Elm Grove's Jovelyn Clemins and her daughter Jenifer.

Less than a year after the shock of their lives, 57-year-old Jovelyn appears to be on the path to recovery.

"I was diagnosed in June of 2015. My first reaction was of course fear. When you hear 'cancer,' it just paralyzes you," Jovelyn said.

25-year-old Jenifer had an understandably similar reaction upon hearing of her mother's condition.

"I just couldn't believe it," Jenifer said.

But the pair quickly found strength, drawn largely from their spirituality.

"I have faith in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior and it's more like a personal relationship for me," Jovelyn said. "That really helped me a lot to overcome and go through my battle with breast cancer. It was emotional and physical, but spiritual too."

In addition to crediting God and Jesus for helping her through her battle, which included a December surgery and six weeks of chemotherapy, Jovelyn also counts many others among those who helped her in her battle over the past year.

"With treatments, I had to be there every day. My family and my husband couldn't be there all the time because they have their own jobs," Jovelyn said. "My church family and my friends would take me and be there for me. It was so important to have a support group."

Jovelyn's church family refers to the congregation of Grace Community Church in West Allis where Jovelyn works part-time as a receptionist.

"I didn't stop working. All through my treatments and stuff I worked twice a week. It helped because people would come and talk to me and pray for me," Jovelyn said. "People were just so nice to me. They were very, very supportive."

Support for Jovelyn came early and often at the church, starting from the moment that she received the unfortunate phone call last June.

"My friend was with me at the office and she helped because her husband was also struggling with cancer at the time and she was able to help make me feel better," Jovelyn said. "When I shared it with all my church members, there were four or five ladies who came to me and said they had been through cancer and chemo. They were already in their 70s and 80s and 90s and they were still alive and well so that gave me hope."

Riding at the vanguard of Jovelyn's support group was of course her husband Todd and her children Jenifer and Jonathan.

For Jenifer, that phone call last June meant a change in lifestyle.

"It was a change to my life and schedule. I helped more with things like cooking and cleaning and laundry around the house," Jenifer said.

Last year Jenifer intended to go back to school and study in Chicago, but instead she ended up taking online courses. That direction allowed her to be ready and able to help her mother when the need arose.

In March, Jovelyn went for an MRI and received some very good news.

"We saw the MRI and they couldn't find the cancer," Jovelyn said. "I'll have another mammogram in June to make sure. We're just praying now that it won't come back."

Prayer and faith remain what Jovelyn credits the most for the good news she received in March and the entire process of her being able to navigate through the trials of the last year.

"Even though there are hard times in life, you have to keep faith and trust in Jesus," Jovelyn said. "I believe that the word of God and the Bible can really help us and guide us and give us the comfort we need."

Although their own personal scare with breast cancer appears to have a positive forecast, walking at Veterans Park this Saturday was not a hard decision for both mother and daughter.

"It's very important to help family members and people with cancer go through that time. I have a better understanding of that now that I've gone through it. I learned a lot from it," Jenifer said. "Meeting other people that are dealing with it, I think it's important to be their support system."

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