Erika Bracey is known by many as a warrior, an encourager, a supporter, and a woman full of grace. As a breast cancer survivor, she understands the importance of support in the lives of women who find themselves battling a disease that will affect over 300,000 women this year. She has traveled across the United States and the world to support and encourage women undergoing treatment, leaving them with a sense of hope in the midst of their battles.
Different Shades of Pink Charity
Erika Bracey founded Different Shades of Pink Charity in 2012 after meeting women and men going through breast cancer treatment and experienced a lack of access to resources and information. She notes that disparities in the African American community, the lack of resources, and access to health care have been the causes of the high death rate among black women and men.
The Different Shades of Pink Charity provides “right now” needs for breast cancer fighters, survivors, and their families. They promote breast cancer awareness, the importance of taking action, exposing barriers, and disparities plaguing our communities, in addition to helping those in need. Over the years, the charity has served over 200 people. Many who have been blessed by Erika and the charitable organization were so inspired by her work that they joined her efforts to support and encourage others going through breast cancer treatment. As Erika shared, “this is a domino effect – an evolution of bravery. God has provided us a blueprint, and we are literally the vessels sent around the world to meet different people and to hear real stories from real people and provide them with what they need.”
Different Shades of Pink has staged “ambushes” all over the globe. These ambushes support men and women who are going through cancer treatment. After receiving the names of people undergoing treatment, the D.S.O.P. team begins planning the ambushes where they drop in on patients and surprising them with gifts, gift cards, words of encouragement, a handmade B.L.E.S.T. bracelet, and love. Erika shared that many going through treatment are depressed and discouraged; her commitment to serve during these moments is unwavering – she understands how they feel because she, too, is a survivor.
Erika’s Breast Cancer Experience
Erika Bracey was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39 years old. She shared that after a mosquito bit her on her breast’s left side, she touched her breast and felt a round, hard lump. Erika immediately made an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound, which revealed a cyst that required further screening every three months. After having a mammogram and an ultrasound, the doctor still couldn’t find anything. However, Erika shared that as she sat up, she felt pressure on her chest. She laid down, put her arm back, and showed the doctor where the lump was located. She subsequently underwent a biopsy and, a week later, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Erika was initially told that she should undergo a double mastectomy. After finally sharing her diagnosis with her mother, she decided to go to another doctor for a second opinion. Fortunately, that doctor provided her with an alternative-to undergo a lumpectomy and radiation, with no mastectomy. Since then, Erika has been intentional about her breast health, and she undergoes regular mammograms and ultrasounds.
Erika’s Mother’s Breast Cancer Journey
In August of 2019, because of her tireless work with breast cancer awareness in the Black Community, B.E.T. recognized Erika with the B.E.T. Her award. During her acceptance speech, she shared, “When I heard that I had breast cancer, I promised God that if he let me live, I would do something great with my life. Little did I know that while I was stuck in the present, he was preparing me for my purpose…” Erika’s mother, Helen Bracey, sat in the audience while her daughter accepted her award. Erika shared that on that night, her mother wasn’t feeling well, and she did not attend the interviews with the award recipients; however, her mother’s face and smile reflected how proud she was of her daughter – a daughter she raised to be whatever and whoever she wanted to be – a Brave Chick!
Two months later, on October 16, 2019, the B.E.T. awards show aired on network television. Erika had planned a watch party for that evening; however, her mother was admitted to the hospital that night. Instead, the watch party took place in her mother’s hospital room. Ms. Bracey was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer which had already metastasized. Erika shared that her beloved mother won the victory and passed away on July 26, 2020. She shared that throughout her life, her mother showed her what it meant to love others unconditionally. Erika’s friends and her village surrounded the two of them, showering them with love and support – just as they did, unconditionally, for so many. She had no idea of the impact her mother had on so many people – not only from the neighborhood – but from the entire world. Mrs. Bracey’s legacy lives on through her daughter and the work she continues to do in the community.
Breast Cancer Disparities
As statistics have shown, white women are diagnosed more often than black women; yet, black women have a higher incidence of death from breast cancer. The numbers are increasing, particularly in later stage diagnoses. Erika shared that she is receiving more calls from women recently diagnosed with breast cancer and from families who have lost loved ones to the disease. She is quick to share that although we are still in the pandemic, it is always important that women take care of their breast health and schedule their mammograms. She adds, “During this time, it is important for all women to have mammograms and supplemental screenings if needed – early detection is truly key. It’s important for us to look at cancer as though they have a cold or the flu – get to the doctor. Don’t waste time –be your own advocate, and stand up! Preventive measures change lifestyles.”
For information on Different Shades of Pink Charity, visit www.differentshadesofpink.org. Follow Different Shades of Pink on Facebook @ DifferentShadesOfPink
For information about breast cancer and prevention.
Rush Breast Imaging: https://www.rush.edu/services/breast-imaging-services, or call (312) 226-2337)
Roseland Hospital Mammography Center: https://www.roselandhospital.org/mammography-center/, or call 773-995-3094.
American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.html
Donna L. Hammond is a contributing writer and seminarian. Follow her on Facebook, DeeLoisSpeaks, and on Twitter and Instagram,