One morning, Carmela Ledet woke up to find something wrong as she examined herself in the bathroom mirror.
“I felt my own lump,” she said trembling.
Suspecting something out of the ordinary, but not realizing what it was, she checked in with her doctor and later was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Only 33 at the time, the one thing that was racing through her mind was the horror of being separated from her 18-month old son.
“It’s difficult on anyone who is diagnosed with cancer,” Ledet said. “You don’t know what you have. And I thought, ‘can I make it through this?’”
That was in 1993. Fortunately, she is now a 20-year breast cancer survivor.
But, at first it wasn’t easy after radiation treatment and after surgeons performed a lumpectomy to remove her lump plus additional lymph nodes under her right arm.
Ledet, who is a natural lefty, said she lost the use of her right arm and had to exercise her arm for a few weeks to be able to fully use it again.
“The good thing is that there is now so much research. If you catch it early, you can be treated, and there is a greater chance of survival,” Ledet said.
However, cancer is known as the silent killer and others succumb to the disease.
That is what happened to Ledet’s close friend Sharon Jennings-Roy when she passed away in 2002 after a heroic battle against breast cancer.
Since Jennings-Roy’s death, Ledet has never missed a chance to walk to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research, education, and screenings.
Ledet, along with Jennings-Roy’s mother and close friends are known as Sharon’s Angels.
This year, Ledet chairs the 2013 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in downtown Houston, hoping to raise $4 million for the Houston affiliate for breast cancer research, education, screenings, and treatment.
“This race is one of the largest in the United States. It attracts people because it offers something for everyone,” Ledet said.
Indeed, if last year is any indication, Ledet said about 30,000 supporters will participate dressed in remembrance of a loved one who has lost a life or luckily who has survived.
Up to 75 percent of the net income raised goes directly to support local granting efforts to further screenings and treatments for the uninsured and medically underserved in Houston’s seven-county service area.
The remaining 25 percent goes to the national nonprofit in Dallas where some is redirected back to Houston’s breast cancer treatment programs.
Ledet said she was particularly proud to see her son Jerrien Johnson graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas this year.
“You just don’t know how happy I was to see this,” Ledet said.
Wistfully, though she still thinks of her close friend Sharon who also had a son she left behind. She never survived long enough to see him graduate high school.
“To this day, I always think of her,” Ledet said with a tear.
This story is a reprint Greg Hitchcock wrote for the Houston Chronicle in 2016