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A spirit unfazed by breast cancer

By Justin Boron

In March 2004, Joan Francis found a lump in her breast and squeezed it. Blood trickled out.

"That's when I knew something was wrong," she said.

But the health conscious, 39-year-old said her reaction wasn't panicked.

Even after a doctor's visit three months later revealed that Francis had cancer and her breasts needed to be surgically removed, fear did not take over.

Francis said the courage comes from knowing she is in good hands with God and accepting the cancer as her burden to bear.

"You have your spirit, and you have your soul," she said. "Everybody has to go through some testimony."

Francis is in recovery and hopes the cancer will not return.

One of the most difficult parts of the life-changing experience, the single mother said, was telling her 9-year old daughter, Ericka Smith.

"I didn't know how she was going to handle it," she said.

It took about six months before her daughter got suspicious of the breast-cancer related mail that kept arriving at her house and Francis had to tell her.

Being a single-mother and having breast cancer can be difficult because of cutbacks in Medicaid, said Dr. D. Ann Travis Honeycutt, a medical doctor in the nursed managed clinic at Clayton State University.

Without some sort of insurance or medical assistance, a woman can't get checked.

"The health department has programs through which women can get clinical breast exams and mammograms, but those typically start at age 40," she said.

But part of that reason is breast cancer is just not that common in younger women, Travis Honeycutt said.

"It's one of the things that we wouldn't expect in a young woman," she said. "Of course for the person that comes up with the breast cancer, it's a very big problem, but when we look at the demographics overall, they are a very small part of the problem."

Dealing with the psychological effects of the illness can be difficult.

"In Clayton County, I didn't have any support groups," Francis said.

DeKalb County was the nearest place she said she could go.

In turn, Francis started her own group that meets at the women's health center at the Southern Regional Medical Center.

"Bosom Buddies" meets the first Thursday of every month.

Francis' cancer also has got her and her friends involved in another breast support event for breast cancer.

As part of a three day walk on Sept. 30, Francis and a group of friends will raise money and awareness for breast cancer research.

The event, beginning at Northlake Mall, benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Francis formed a team with her three friends Faith Case, 48, Tonya Tripp, 36, and Tiki Carter, 42, calling themselves Signal 63, which is an allusion to how they all met. Case, who is a detective for the Lake City Police Department, said the moniker is the international signal for officer needs assistance. The friends first met while working in the Morrow emergency dispatch center.

"Joan was here to be an example," Carter said.

To learn more about the walk or to make a donation to Signal 63, visit www.the3day.org. Also, to join "Bosom Buddies," call (678)-575-0129.