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Breast cancer survivor takes control by helping others

Courthouse employees hand out pastries donated by QuikTrip during Tuesday’s breast cancer awareness event. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

Courthouse employees hand out pastries donated by QuikTrip during Tuesday’s breast cancer awareness event. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Two-time breast cancer survivor Toni Bell, center, with courtroom interpreter Jartu G. Toles, left, and Sacha Greene of DUI Court. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Courthouse workers Darline Dixon, left, and Wanda Munroe hand out goody bags to other employees and visitors exiting the elevators on the third floor of the Clayton County Courthouse Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Courthouse IT expert Brian Garrison folds Susan G. Komen T-shirts, which were given away Tuesday during a breast cancer awareness event.

JONESBORO — As a two-time breast cancer survivor, Memphis native Toni Bell said she knew she had to take action to help others avoid getting the disease or learn how to cope if they do.

“I walk for exercise and I walk up and down this hallway every day,” said Bell, indicating the third floor of the Clayton County Courthouse. “I knew October was coming up and wanted to do something to get out the word about breast cancer awareness.”

The result was Tuesday’s event that drew hundreds of county employees, jurors and residents with business at the courthouse. The tables set up on the third-floor balcony held free pens, pencils, T-shirts and cancer literature but also doughnuts, bananas, a variety of chips and mints — all donated.

Sponsors included QT, Clayton County Water Authority, Susan G. Komen, Chick-fil-A, Belk, McDonalds, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Walmart, Beautymaster, Woodforest National Bank, Little Caesars, Waffle House, Sonic, Georgia State University, Sam’s Club, State Farmers Market, Georgia Tech, Navy Federal Credit Union, Arby’s, Wayfield, Kroger, GEICO and American Cancer Society.

Bell said she wasn’t surprised at the outpouring of help from the businesses.

“I’ve done events like this before at other jobs, for other organizations,” she said. “I just started calling and everyone I called donated.”

Bell was also impressed by the number of folks who came through the line. They picked up free pastries and chips but they also pocketed pamphlets on breast self-examinations and early detection.

“This was an overwhelming response,” she said “It went really good as far as everyone having a good time, the camaraderie.”

Bell was first diagnosed at 31. As devastating as the news was to her family, Bell said it was something about which she felt equipped to tackle head-on. She knew she had to remain calm.

“They kept telling me that I was too young, that 31 was so young,” she said. “But I’m from Memphis and I knew at St. Jude’s, there was a whole hospital filled with children with cancer. This was something I could beat.”

As one of four daughters of a nurse, Bell said she knew about early detection and breast self-examinations.

“Mom taught us that self-exams were very important,” she said. “You should know every lump, bump and bruise on your body. I found my own lump and showed my doctor where it was.”

Bell has a younger sister who is a survivor and a male cousin who is a 25-year breast cancer survivor.

“I knew I had a very strong family history,” she said. “My mother taught me to be pro-active and that early detection often means it can be treatable.”

Bell was cancer-free for 15 years when she found another lump three years ago. The first time, treatment meant a lumpectomy. The second time, Bell underwent a mastectomy.

Still, she tries to be practical.

“I want to be encouraging to women,” she said. “This may be my calling. We know that one in eight women will get the diagnosis. Get seven friends together and one of them — or you – will likely get breast cancer.”

Shameka Hudson of Riverdale went through the line Tuesday with her own daughters, 15 and 12.

“I want to know all about this, I need to know,” said Hudson. “We don’t have anyone in the family with breast cancer but it’s good to have this information.”

Hudson said educating her daughters about breast cancer prevention is part of being a mother.

“I’m setting a good example for them,” she said. “I want them to learn about breast cancer and self-exams.”

Bell agreed that education is the key to preventing and treating the deadly disease.

“It’s sad that so many women don’t know when to do a breast self-exam,” she said. “All women should get a baseline mammogram and tell a friend. When we know better, we should do better.”