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Chelsea Gilliam photo

Game Changer: Chelsea Gilliam

Chelsea Gilliam

Breast Cancer Survivor Stresses Early Detection in Young Women


By: Jhada Walker, B-CU Office of Communications, Communications Student Internship Program (CSIP)

Chelsea Gilliam is not only the head coach of the Bethune-Cookman University bowling team, she is also a breast cancer survivor. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I spoke with Gilliam about her journey with breast cancer and the advice she has for other young women within the community.

JW: When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
CG: I was originally diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer in October of 2013. I was 23 at the time and the Men's and Women's Bowling Coach at Union College in Southeastern Kentucky. I was then diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in May of 2016, it had returned and spread to my bones. I was 26 then and the Head Bowling Coach at Youngstown State University in Northeast Ohio.

JW: Who or what as the most helpful during that time period?
CG: Both times my mom flew up from Louisiana to be with me during my surgeries. I also had a great group of athletes and athletic department that were very supportive through the entire process. They would make sure I had everything I needed, that I was taking my meds, drinking enough water, etc.

JW: How has breast cancer affected you?
CG: Breast cancer has made me realize that it is okay to ask for help and to let people help you. Growing up. I was always very independent. I would do everything for myself and had a very hard time letting people help. I think part of me felt like it made me look weak or needy if I had to have others do things for me. I learned that that's not the case. People want to help because they care and by letting them help, it also helps them cope with whatever you're going through. It has also taught me not to take life and things for granted. We don't realize how much we have or can do until we can't do it anymore. Life is short, it can be gone in an instant, so we need to do the things we love and live life to the fullest while we are able. I currently am not cancer free. However, my team of doctors and my medications have me at a point where everything is stable and there is no growth or spread. That's the goal to keep it from spreading for as long as possible.

JW: What message would you like to provide to women in the community?
CG: My message to women, especially young women, is to know your body. Cancer does not care how old/young you are, it doesn't care if you're a healthy individual with no other health problems. It will show up whenever and in whoever it wants. If you notice a change in your body you need to go to the doctor and get it checked out. Do not wait! I know it can be scary thinking you might hear the words "You have cancer." However, it is so much better to catch it early and get rid of it then to wait and have different circumstances. If you are young and a doctor tells you that you are too young to have breast cancer, don't listen to them. Do not let them tell you they won't check it. Keep on them or find a new doctor. Someone out there will look into what's going on and be able to help you.

Phenomenal Woman Think Tank (PWTT)

Phenomenal Woman Think Tank (PWTT) is an organization founded on the Bethune-Cookman University campus in February 2017 that promotes academic excellence, personal development, community engagement, and women's empowerment. This month, PWTT is promoting breast cancer awareness through their Instagram account with the campaign, “31 Days of Facts.” Each day, a member of the Phenomenal 49 provides their Instagram followers with an important fact about breast cancer or a personal experience regarding breast cancer. This is PWTT’s first time launching this campaign. Be sure to check out events planned for the month of October by following their Instagram page @bcu_pwtt. Below are facts provided by PWTT:

  • There are more than 3.3 million Breast Cancer survivors in the U.S. today.
  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in their lifetime.
  • Every two minutes, one woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer.
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