As if the cancer journey isn't tough enough, imagine being a single parent to a 15-year-old daughter.
That was the case for Constance Charles when her doctor confirmed the cluster of lumps she'd felt around her right breast was breast cancer -- stage II noninvasive intraductal carcinoma. She had no history of cancer in her family, so the diagnosis was a complete surprise.
Constance was afraid to tell her daughter, Briahna, because she didn't want to think about her having to face the world alone. It had always just the two of them together in Texas. Their closest family members lived in Kansas.
When she finally worked up the courage and broke the news, Briahna asked, "Are you going to die, Mom?"
More than 12 years later, Constance is proud to call herself a cancer survivor and an MD Anderson employee. Constance always tells single parents - or anyone facing cancer - that faith, family and friends are what helped her and Briahna get to this point.
Advice for single parents facing cancer
Here's Constance's advice for single parents facing cancer:
- Don't turn down help. Single parents often spend so much time taking care of themselves that they're not used to being the recipients of help. "Do not isolate yourself," Constance says. "Your friends and family want to help." Friends and former colleagues often drove her to appointments and provided meals. Being diagnosed so close to the holidays, she fondly remembers receiving a Thanksgiving feast.
- Educate those closest to you. Because she was diagnosed during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Constance had access to lots of information and survivor stories. She took time to read each one with Briahna. The survivor stories in particular helped ease Briahna's mind and give her the confidence that her mom would be OK. "Knowledge is power," Constance says. "I thought it was important for her to become knowledgeable about breast cancer and what I was going through."
- Get active in the cancer community. Constance participates in many local cancer walks and activities to support others and honor friends she's lost along the way. "I've been there. I've been in that situation where I was scared and didn't know what to expect," Constance says. "We had no family in Texas, so many of the people who reached out to me through those organizations became our family."
- Don't give up. Above all, Constance wants everyone facing cancer to know this journey is actually a new beginning. "It's not time to give up," she says. "It's time to fight."
The new face of Jason's Deli's Strike Through Cancer campaign
Today, Constance is fighting cancer in a new way. She's the latest cancer survivor featured in Jason's Deli's Strike Through Cancer campaign, which raises money to support cancer research at MD Anderson.
"When I first learned about MD Anderson's collaboration with Jason's Deli, I knew I wanted to be involved because Jason's Deli was giving back to cancer research," Constance says. "As an MD Anderson employee and a survivor receiving care at MD Anderson, I know that the funds are going into the hands of doctors and scientists that will give my daughter and granddaughter the best chance to one day live in a world without cancer."
A photo of Constance and Briahna -- along with Briahna's 2-year old daughte,r Samauri -- appears on specially marked water bottles from April through June 2015. Throughout the year, Jason's Deli will donate 10 cents to cancer research at MD Anderson from every specially marked water bottle it sells.