It was a playful encounter wrestling around with her 13-year-old son that would change the trajectory of Angie Walter’s life.
“My son and I were just horsing around wrestling in the living room when he kicked me in the chest,” she said. “I reached up and felt a huge lump on the outside of my breast. It was so big, and I didn’t understand how I had never felt it before.”
Initially, the 36-year-old mother of two was not alarmed by the growth since she kept up with yearly routine breast examinations and had no history of breast cancer in her family. It came as a shock when she received the sobering news from her doctor that the lemon-sized growth was stage three breast cancer, an aggressive and life-threatening form of cancer that required immediate intervention.
Less than two weeks later, Walters underwent a mastectomy to remove the cancer in her left breast followed by five months of chemotherapy at Saint Francis Hospital. It was only the beginning of a decade full of multiple surgeries including another mastectomy, hysterectomy and an unsuccessful reconstructive surgery that resulted in sepsis that nearly killed her.
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Despite each debilitating setback, Walters continued working full time and raising her two children. She is quick to credit her family, friends and employer with providing the financial and emotional support not just needed, but necessary to survive cancer.
“We could pay those basic bills, so that was just something I never had to worry about,” Walters said. “I couldn’t imagine trying to focus on your healing while having kids and trying to work a full-time job while you don’t have the money to pay rent and are facing eviction while going through breast cancer. These are the kind of things that went through my mind.”
In 2007, about two years after being diagnosed, Walters decided to take matters into her own hands through the creation of the Breast Cancer Assistance Program (BCAP), a nonprofit organization that paid for basic needs such as rent, mortgage and utilities for patients undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Regardless of having no experience in managing a nonprofit organization, Walters and her BCAP volunteers, which originally consisted of friends and family, hosted church garage sales with materials donated by the community. The response was overwhelming, and the organization quickly expanded its fundraising efforts to ultimately raise almost $1 million over a 12-year period.
But the toll of managing the growing organization, working a full-time job, and recovering from breast cancer led Walters to close BCAP in 2019, a decision she calls one of the most difficult of her life.
“It was hard, but I felt like it was just time,” she said. “So then I promised myself that I would not do anything or join any boards because I had given 13 years of my life.”
Although BCAP was no longer active, Walters’s years of hard work had not gone unnoticed. In 2022, she was recognized as a Woman of Inspiration at the 2022 Tulsa Pink Stiletto Gala, an event that honors local women who have used their platforms to promote breast cancer awareness.
The event is hosted by Susan G. Komen, a national organization with a mission of ending breast cancer through education, research and quality care for patients. Komen has invested over $1.1 billion in breast cancer research since 1982. They also provide breast cancer services to 77 Oklahoma counties and have over 800 breast cancer advocates in Oklahoma.
In addition to being recognized, Walters was invited to join the Susan G. Komen leadership team, a prospect that she was admittedly reluctant to accept until she met with Executive Director Shari Holdman who shared her vision of collaborating with other breast cancer organizations, like BCAP, to educate the public and support those affected by breast cancer.
“We all have the same mission and we’re on the same boat together,” Walters said. “I’m really happy with the direction that we’re going.”
Walters became even more involved when she accepted the role as event chair for the 2023 Tulsa Pink Stiletto Gala, but instead of being the honoree she would be the one honoring two Tulsa women who, much like herself, used their experience as an opportunity to help individuals navigating the long, arduous road of surviving or preventing breast cancer.
This year’s nominees, Aisha Patterson and Sarah Teague, are women who have used their social media platforms to educate the public and share their stories of how breast cancer has affected their lives.
Patterson is a 32-year-old wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2020. According to her website, she made a promise to God “to not let my pain be in vain. Instead, I would share my story, raise awareness and provide resources that may help other women battling through cancer.”
Patterson also has 12,000 followers on her Instagram page that features a wide range of content including self-breast exam tutorials, cooking recipes, tips on supporting a loved one with breast cancer, and promoting other social media accounts in need of medical financial assistance.
Teague, a 37-year-old mother and entrepreneur, created a blog that shares her lifelong relationship with breast cancer with transparency and humor. She was 5 years old when her 35-year-old mother was first diagnosed. She jokes that she “grew up in waiting rooms” while accompanying her mother to her countless medical appointments.
Breast cancer was prevalent in Teague’s family and her mother eventually succumbed to the disease in 2011. Before she passed, her mother made Teague promise that she would get tested for the breast cancer gene, and if positive, get a double mastectomy — something she wish she had done for herself.
Teague adhered to her mother’s wishes and got the genetic testing, which came back positive, and ultimately got a double mastectomy.
Since then, Teague has been a proponent of individuals taking control of their health through genetic screening and learning family history regarding breast cancer.
“It’s so much easier to bury your head in the sand or say it will never happen to you, and that’s just not a luxury we have,” Teague said. “It’s not a story that I love, and I wish that no one had to endure it, but if I can help just one person, it would be worth it.”
The 2023 Tulsa Pink Stiletto Gala will take place Feb. 11 at the River Spirit Casino Resort. There will be a 6 p.m. cocktail reception and silent auction followed by a 7 p.m. dinner, program and live auction.
Tickets can be purchased at komen.org/community/Oklahoma.