Warriors: Stories from 7 Charlotte Women Affected by Breast Cancer

This article is sponsored by Charlotte Radiology Breast Services.

In this monthly series, sponsored by Charlotte Radiology Breast Services, we highlight local women who are going above and beyond in their careers, passions, and paths in Charlotte.

This month we are highlighting local women who have had their lives impacted in some way by breast cancer. From the survivors to the advocates, we wanted these women to tell their stories and their perspectives on breast cancer.

Please note this list does not reflect all of the incredible women and organizations in Charlotte and surrounding areas affected by breast cancer. It is just a sampling based on our research, as well as reader submissions. Please add yourself or other women you admire in the COMMENTS section below, so all can see and support.

[ A special thank you to those readers who nominated the women included in this list ]

Stamie Despo

Executive Firector, Susan G. Komen Charlotte 

Cancer is personal to me. My mother passed away from ovarian cancer 15 years ago. I was a big part of her cancer journey; the good, bad and ugly. We see people daily at Komen Charlotte who are fighting a similar battle with breast cancer, and their struggles really resonate with me. 

My favorite saying is “One step at a time.” I believe you can achieve anything by taking one step at a time, no matter how big of a mountain you’re trying to climb. I’m always moved by the sea of survivors walking with pride and emotion at Race for the Cure as these warriors take one step at a time through their breast cancer journey.

The best part of working at Komen Charlotte is being able to witness the generosity of our community – the time, treasure and talent our community shares with us daily makes an exponential impact. We couldn’t do what we do without our supporters.

Molly Grantham

Anchor with WBTV, Author, Advocate

The words breast cancer first hit me when I was 7. My grandmother had silver staples after a double mastectomy and lifted her shirt. “Knowledge is power,” she said. I had no idea what she meant.

When I was 12, my mom was diagnosed. It was then I learned my great-grandmother had died from this disease long before I’d even been born… I was the fourth generation in a family of women where the three before me all had breast cancer. My mom beat it originally, but it came back in metastasized form 25 years later. She died in 2017.

Gene tests show me I’m negative – Thank God – and I keep up to date on mammograms. But why do I fight? Why do I care? For those three women before me, the many others I’ve met and loved along the way, and for my own daughter. My mission is to help find a damn cure in her lifetime.

Angel McClain-McCaskill

Survivor and Author

Just because you hear the words ‘you have cancer’ doesn’t mean a death sentence. A great support system and positive thinking are key, as is early detection. Self-breast exams are important, do them monthly… know your body! Get your mammograms, there is no excuse not to get one. My faith and my relationship with God are the reasons that I am still here.

Phaedra Pistoné

Owner of Classic Bride & Formals, Mrs. North Carolina America 2019, and two-time breast cancer survivor

I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor and an advocate of early detection as mammograms saved my life twice.

One of my favorite quotes is from Helen Keller, “The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes difficult things, such as a life-threating diagnosis, bad news or a very difficult challenge to make us realize how amazing life is and to find our purpose. We will all go through challenging times in our lives but remember you are not alone. You have people that are ready to support you and help you through the difficult challenges of life!

Susan Sears

Executive Director, Go Jen Go

The brave Survivors that Go Jen Go supports along with our co-founder, Jen Pagani, are who inspire me and provide the motivation and passion to continue to do everything I can for breast cancer causes.

As the executive director for Go Jen Go I have the opportunity to engage with our grantees and their gratitude for our assistance during their fight encourages me to continue the work that I do. Each month Go Jen Go provides critical financial assistance for household bills (rent, utilities, groceries, etc) to 40-45 breast cancer survivors in the Greater Charlotte area. Our goal is to help people stay focused on their treatment rather than having to worry about their finances. Last year, 168 local breast cancer survivors and their families received $120,000 in assistance.

Joanne Stegall

Survivor (13 years this month)

I remember my surgeon, Dr. Teresa Flippo, (may God rest her soul) saying to me after a double biopsy (I had two separate lumps) and my breast cancer diagnosis, “you must do yoga, you are the calmest patient I’ve ever had.” I remember saying “I’ve never done yoga, but I have two teenage girls at home, so let’s take care of this.” And she did. Of course, there was fear, but I did a lot (and I mean a LOT) of praying and was lead to read and gain knowledge about my options and treatment, etc.  I was rallied around by my girls, their friends and the moms of their friends, as well as my family, and am so grateful to say I’m a 13-year survivor! 

[Joanne was nominated by both of her daughters.]

Susan Young

Owner of blis Boutique and survivor

I was diagnosed on September 20, 2010, and had a lumpectomy on October 1, 2010. I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer stage two. Once I recovered from the surgery, I had a treatment plan of chemo and radiation ahead of me. During this time my daughter and business partner had 10-month-old twin girls.  My youngest daughter, Hillary had just moved back home from Boston and was by my side along with my husband, David. 

My journey was focused on my treatment plan, keeping my body strong, work and caring for my family. I leaned on my faith in God and found so much strength in him and words of affirmation from daily readings and books shared by friends and loved ones. 

Like so many strong warriors I keep my thoughts and mind strong with recovery and remission. When I reflect back I definitely have hard and scary memories but those are overshadowed by loving and positive ones.

What I would say is give love and spread humor. The humorous gifts of hats and wigs I received would bring on spontaneous fashion shows for my family and friends. Also reflecting back that I had no hair like my little twin granddaughters still makes me chuckle and cry! I write this in memory of Dr. Teresa Flippo. 

This series, brought to you by Charlotte Radiology Breast Centers, highlights the Charlotte Women making our community the vibrant, growing, exciting place they’ve been calling home for 50 years. At Charlotte Radiology, they know women, seeing over 100,000 women a year for their breast health needs. The professionals at Charlotte Radiology believe the key to beating and detecting breast cancer early is annual mammograms starting at age 40.