Leaning on each other, two survivors keep on

When Sarita Jordan was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer in September 2005, one of the greatest challenges she faced was the lack of support from family and friends.

“I had little to no support at home, and I really didn’t even know how to ask for somebody’s help because I’ve always been the provider in my household,” said Jordan, 43, a single mother of four.

Her children were too young at the time to offer emotional support, although they assisted in small ways, fixing her toast since she had lost her taste during radiation treatment, and walking one another to the school bus. Instead, Jordan said she found her strength from a support group of older women who became almost like surrogate moms.

It was through the Young Survivors conferences that Jordan met one of her biggest supporters and closest friends, Ronyha O’Neal-Champ, of Little Rock, Ark. O’Neal-Champ, 50, has been diagnosed with breast cancer five times.

Despite the fact the two women lived hundreds of miles apart, they quickly developed a bond that allowed them to feed off each other’s experiences.

“Where I might want to succumb to something that’s going on, I look at her and she’s still striving and thriving and she’s gone through it five times,” Jordan said, calling O’Neal-Champ her “strength pillar.”

Meanwhile, O’Neal Champ, a married mother of one, described Jordan as her “rock.” “A year or year and half ago, I would have chemo every Tuesday and she would call me every Tuesday morning before my chemo and have a pep talk,” O’Neal Champ said last weekend during a visit to Philadelphia.

Their families have gotten to know one another and the women get together at least four times a year. They are also both active in supporting other young women through various organizations.

“I feel like my purpose was destined for that going through the road I’ve gone through,” Jordan said.