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Survivors celebrate during breast cancer awareness month with photo shoot

Signing the truck

Shandrika Christopher, a cancer survivor of seven years, signs her name to the Pink Heals fire engine on Oct. 11, to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

OXFORD Having beaten cancer, the Pink Queens were unfazed with only a little rain Saturday afternoon. 

The trio of breast cancer survivors — Shandrika Christopher, Temecha Williams and Jackie Judkins — decided last year to celebrate having beaten back the dangerous disease by holding a photo shoot to show, in Christopher’s words, “We don’t have to look like what we’ve been through.” The trio decided to hold another photo shoot this year, themed with white and denim clothing, and invited others who beat cancer to join them during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Kita Graham and Yolanda Peters, two more breast cancer survivors, joined the other Pink Queens for the photo session. 

The ladies posed and danced beside a pink-painted fire engine from cancer charity Pink Heals, even as a smattering of rain cast off from tropical depression Delta passed over the lot across from Choccolocco Park. 

“We’ve been through cancer, so what’s a little rain?” Judkins joked. 

Christopher has been cancer-free for seven years and Williams for two, while Judkins celebrated her one-year anniversary this month. Graham had been clear for nine years, she said. 

Christopher said she’d had the idea for the photo shoots while spending time with other women who had been or were going through bouts with cancer. Receiving the diagnosis is shocking, she said, so she’s made offering guidance a part of her life. 

Williams said the same — receiving the news is just the first phase in a long period of uncertainty. There were hard nights spent crying in the bathroom, she said, when she wanted to be sure her kids wouldn’t know how frightened she was. 

A sense of determination was key to staying sane through the chemotherapy, the radiation and the other work that comes with fighting off cancer, she explained. 

“I know there are going to be hard days, and I know there are going to be crying days,” Williams said, addressing anyone who might be going through the early stages of a cancer diagnosis. “You got in that bathroom and you cry, but then you walk about, you adjust your crown and you say, ‘Cancer doesn’t have me, I have the upper hand on this,’ and you keep fighting.” 

Brian Roszell and B.R. Wilson, the Pink Heals fire engine’s drivers, said the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed calls for the vehicle to make appearances this year. Social distancing was essential for people with underlying health conditions, Roszell said, and though the vehicle is used to draw attention to all kinds of cancer, the local Pink Heals chapter has played it safe. 

“This month we’re pretty busy,” Wilson said. 

Christopher encouraged people diagnosed with cancer to find others who are going through it, or to get in touch with survivors for encouragement. The Pink Queens are living proof that there’s a way through the disease, she said. 

“You have to change your mindset to ‘mind over matter,’” Christopher said. “I’m here to show that I got through it.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.