Frisk It or Risk It! Says 2X Breast Cancer Survivor Shay Sharpe

Shay Sharpe taken by Kyle Pompey
Shay Sharpe taken by Kyle Pompey

I know we don’t want to talk about it, but let’s talk about it anyway. I call on you to break out the breast! That’s sort of what I did in my interview with Shay Sharpe. Like literally the button gaped on my shirt and my cleavage did an about face, how timely. We had a good laugh as I repositioned the buttons on my blouse so I could stop flashing Ms. Sharpe.

So speaking of boobs, I wanted to share a testimony about Shay, a brave 2x survivor of breast cancer. Yes 2 TIMES! Once at 26 and exactly ten years later at 36 when her breasts had already been removed. Quietly young Black women are moving through this world uninformed about the lumps, cyst and potential to carry cancer in their breast. Shay, like many, was caught off guard because she thought if there wasn’t a family history there was little to worry about—but, “80% of all breast cancer cases have no family history of breast cancer”. I took a deep gasp as Shay described the second time she found a nodule in her chest under her armpit. Yes, her “chest” because you don’t have to have breasts to have breast cancer. And you don’t have to be middle-aged to have breast cancer. Shay recalls the doctors telling her she was too young to have breast cancer, she drudges up the hurdles and obstacles that no 26 or 36 year old should have to experience. 

Everything from the bankruptcies, insurance claim denials, estrogen resistance, job losses, expenses and medications that are not designed to work on breast cancer survivors under 30. Learning through all of these experiences inspired Shay to develop a non-profit called Pink Wishes in 2011. She is an advocate and beacon of light for so many who quietly hold their chest. Shay gives a lot of love to cancer warriors, but says she has no single advice to give.

“People ask me what I would say to help a woman through breast cancer but this is not a one size fits all. What works for one young woman will not work for ten others. The scenarios change. There are no two survivors alike”.

Shay Sharpe
Shay Sharpe taken by Milton Lawrence

This is why Shay advocates for self/partner examinations through the course of your life. And when you discover something unfamiliar take the time to dispel any possibilities, and since you have 2 breasts make the exception to get two medical opinions. Shay being a super veteran to breast cancer, I have coined her the Harriet Tubman of breast cancer for Black women survivors. Being so young she was one of the earliest survivors to navigate treatment resistance because medications weren’t designed for women her age and were never really considered. There has been significant progress in treating younger women today and Shay is certainly credited with being a part of those advancements while working with the Kimmel Breast Cancer program of Johns Hopkins Institute.   And just like Harriet, she returns to ensure that young Black women impacted by breast cancer can make it through this intricate gauntlet. 


Seldom do we discuss the barriers specifically for Black women ranging from:early age preexposure, melanin complexities, breast scarring, radiation for brown skinned women, estrogen resistance to pre-menopausal women and medical discrimination. Pink Wishes serves as a type of YELP index for Black women who lack the information and knowledge they need to navigate breast cancer. This is an education not given in class, in medical offices, with mothers or at breast cancer walks. Wearing pink bows will not save you, but being as informed as possible and having the bravery and tenacity to be vigilant about testing will. We thank you Shay Sharpe for going beyond the shadows and showing not just your battle scars but how healing comes through information and community kinship.

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