Many people diagnosed with cancer just don’t make it, but Della Triplett, a member of the security force at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, may be perceived as a miracle woman. She has survived breast cancer three times, triumphed over three other types of cancer, been told she had a 75 percent chance of dying but survived all, she says, because of faith and early detection.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more Black women die from breast cancer than any other cancer. Officials say breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in both Black and white people after heart disease.
Why? According to the ACS, “The reason for racial disparities is largely driven by decades of structural racism leading to a higher risk of lower socioeconomic status.”
However, Triplett doesn’t pay attention to medical statistics. Born in Chicago, she is from a family of eight, six girls and two boys. A mother of three, she is a member of West Point Baptist Church headed by Reverend Dr. Bernard Jakes, and it is her faith that has been the lifeline of hope she has relied on to get her through the multiple traumatic cancer diagnoses.
Triplett has defied the medical odds of survival, and looking strong and energetic, one would never suspect her of even being sick. It is inconceivable that she has survived breast cancer three times, thyroid cancer, cervical cancer, and is currently in remission from colon cancer for the past seven years
When asked to what she attributes her history of survival, Triplettt said, “I attribute it to my kids, my church and just thanking God.”
When she learned of her first cancer Triplett said, “I was very scared. I was there by myself. When I found out about my breast cancer, I was in stage two. There was a new medicine that came out called HER2. They gave me a 75 percent chance of not being here, but by the grace of God, I’m still here.”
After her first breast cancer, the disease returned, in her second breast. “I really got scared because I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t think that I was going to make it because they gave me a 75 percent chance of dying. Between the first and second breast cancer, it was only a year. “The third breast cancer was not as bad as the first because I was used to it,” Triplettt said.
After surviving three breast cancer diagnoses, Triplettt thought her bouts of cancer were over, but it was not to be. She was again diagnosed with the disease, this time, cervical cancer. Eight years later, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. “I was so nervous,” she admitted. But, she says, “I had so many people supporting and encouraging me.
“I am the only one in my family who had cancer; God made me the strong one in the family,” says the invincible Triplettt.
“I am here for a reason because I am not through with me yet. I am here to help someone else who may be going through their battles of cancer. Whatever God plans for me, I’m here to help.”
The veteran cancer survivor has advice for those diagnosed with cancer.
“Never wait until the last minute because your cancer might spread and you might not be here. Please go and get your mammogram because it is very important; life matters, especially if you have loved ones. Please get your checkup,” she said.
Chicago Crusader writer survives stomach cancer
While interviewing Triplett, I reflected on my own cancer story–one I kept secret for many years. I was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the summer of 1999, but if I had not challenged three internal medicine physicians’ diagnosis they concluded nothing was wrong with me that either Pepto Bismol or Maalox wouldn’t cure, I would not be here today.
Unlike Triplett, when I found another physician, Dr. Daniel Litoff, who confirmed I did have stomach cancer, I was not afraid when told of the cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Litoff found a huge tumor growing on the back side of my stomach something the three physicians from two hospitals missed. It was malignant and the cells were quickly spreading.
At the time, I was a reporter for the Chicago Defender when the newspaper was up for sale. My publisher, who did not know the nature of my illness, called me at the hospital and said he will need several exclusive stories because the paper could not drop in its circulation.
So, in my hospital gown with my laptop and with the cooperation of the nurses allowing me to get faxes on their fax machine, I blocked out any notion that I had stomach cancer and churned out five to six stories a day for two weeks.
I had to come back to the hospital in three weeks to see if the surgeon had removed all the cancer cells. He hadn’t, and I had to undergo a second surgery. Again, and without my family knowing, I brought my laptop. My publisher called me saying he really needed one more story; so, I called Congressman Danny K. Davis.
When I asked the Congressman for an exclusive, he said, “I thought you were in the hospital.” I told him I was and explained why I needed another exclusive. When I gave him my fax number, he was stunned. “What? You have a fax machine in your hospital room?” he asked.
Well, while waiting for that fax, I heard several nurses welcoming somebody and in walked Congressman Davis. I was furious because I never wanted anyone to see me in my nightgown in a hospital! He kept saying, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.” After two-weeks, I was discharged with no prescription and no chemotherapy and have been cancer free ever since August 10, 1999.
Because I too am a cancer survivor, I also know that life matters which is why I am joining Triplett in urging women to get their mammograms and medical checkups regularly. To hesitate is the gateway to death.
But don’t take my word. Listen to the ACS, especially their reasons for racial disparities of the predicted deaths of Black and Brown cancer patients, which they say are “rooted in structural racism which contributes to inequalities in the social determinants of health including access to care.”
According to the ACS, these issues and barriers affect Blacks who are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage disease which is usually more costly and difficult to treat. Blacks are more likely to experience delays in treatment, and they are less likely to receive recommended treatment.
This is why Triplett and I are asking women and men, because men get breast cancer, too, to get regular checkups. Additionally, I am asking everyone never to accept a diagnosis from a physician when you believe something is truly wrong. That is the advice my mother, who was a nurse, told me. Get a second opinion. I did, and because of that I am alive to tell your stories.
I am no longer ashamed of once having had cancer. I am a stomach cancer survivor of 23 years because of my faith and the prayers of my Pastor, Father Michael L. Pfleger.