One African-American breast cancer survivor walked 1,000 miles from Biloxi, Mississippi, to D.C. topless to expose the harsh realities of the disease.

Paulette McKenzie LeaphartPaulette McKenzie-Leaphart arrived in the District on her 50th birthday, Monday, June 27, with the purpose of delivering a message to members of Congress about the pain of breast cancer and the need to find a cure.

"People are dying from cancer because they can't afford treatment, so that’s my fight," Leaphart said. "That’s going to be my fight until they change it or until I leave this world. One or the other."

Natalie Williams, of the Natalie Williams Breast Care Foundation [NWBCF], an organization that specializes in breast care advocacy in communities of color, greeted Leaphart when she arrived in D.C.

"On behalf of the NWBCF, we are pleased to serve as the host organization for Ms. Leaphart," Williams said. "Together, we stand firm with her and other survivors in our collective efforts to raise awareness and to find a cure for cancer."

"Each day, we work to address and support the thousands of women who come face-to-face with a disease that destroys many lives and families. It's unfortunate that Washington D.C. has the highest number of new breast cancer cases in the entire nation. This partnership with Ms. Leaphart strengthens our efforts in raising awareness and finding a cure," she said.

Leaphart and Williams met with members of Congress and District leaders during the week of July 11th to discuss the advances in the cancer industry, as well as current efforts to find a cure.

Just a few years ago, Leaphart, a homeless mother of eight with four biological and four adopted children, couldn't imagine she would be diagnosed with breast cancer or become an advocate for a cure.

Even with a substantial familial record of the disease she didn't take precautions.

"I had a strong family history of breast cancer," she said. "My mother, my grandmother, my mother’s baby sister, my mom’s niece and my first cousin had breast cancer. My aunt was 42 and my cousin was 31 when they were diagnosed."

"At 47, I had never had a mammogram because I was one of those women who knew for sure it would never happen to me."

She said that in her state of denial God whispered to her that she had cancer.

"It prompted me to go see about myself," she said.

At 47, in January of 2014, she received her diagnosis.

"The doctor only confirmed what God already told me, so I had no fear," she said. "I rested on my faith. I was not afraid. I knew I would be okay. "But when the doctor told me he would have to take both of my breasts, I was afraid."

After deciding to have the double mastectomy, Leaphart said she went into a deep depression.

Journey of 1,000 Miles

After eight months of daily treatment, she took a needed rest in her hometown of Biloxi, Miss.

"I needed a break because the side effects of the treatment were horrible," she said. "While visiting the beach with my daughters, the Holy Spirit told me to remove my shirt and take pictures. People took notice of me standing there shirtless. Two women in the crowd were crying. I started crying too. People were clapping for me, they were cheering for me. That was the inspiration for the walk. I was free from shame, I was free."

It took her a year and a half to train for her journey that she started on April 30, 2016.

"God gave me the vision, he equipped me for this journey. I had a supernatural strength, the same strength that helped me through losing my house, cars and losing my mind."

On her walk topless to the District people began to see the truth.

"When people saw my scars they took off running to the doctors," she said. "They saw the truth and devastation of what cancer can do."

She hopes her bold action of showing the physical effects of breast cancer will shock others into action.

"I’m not taking away from the pink, but we need to take it to another level. Black women take it as something to be ashamed of. That is why I walked topless to take the stigma away. I want the cure and no American left out. Congress isn't going to change, unless we make them. I believe I’ve opened their eyes."

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