Meet The Team

four women stand together and pose for the camera

This webpage is one part of the very first comprehensive hub of resources created for, and with, Black women experiencing breast cancer in Canada. Throughout the journey of creating this webpage, there were four women who co-created the vision, goals and content for this webpage based on their personal experiences battling breast cancer.

Get to know our co-creators and read their stories below.

Meet the Co-Creators

headshot of Dawn Barker


Dawn Barker was born on the beautiful island of Barbados. She is a mother, a sister, cousin and friend. A visionary who uses writing as her outlet. She is currently working on publishing her very first book. Dawn has been in the healthcare field and has dedicated her time working with the young, the old and everyone in between. After being diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer at the young age of 44 years old and surviving it, she knows she was saved by grace. Her pain has become her purpose and passion. Dawn believes that you don’t go through something as traumatic as cancer and come out of it the same… it changes you. Her faith keeps her grounded and has been her anchor in the storms of life.

Dawn currently volunteers with Circle of Love Community Outreach and proudly serves as an Ambassador and Patient Advocate for the Olive Branch of Hope. Her message is simple, don’t wait until you are 50 years old to have your first breast screening. As women of African Ancestry, 50 may be too late. Early stage detection saved her life! Dawn continues to advocate for women by being a voice for the voiceless. Her desire to give back is an ongoing pursuit. She is asking Black women to break this code of silence surrounding breast cancer to help close the gaps of disparity.

“If I can touch even one life a day with my testimony, that is one day I have given more hope to a soul that needed it”

headshot of Debbie Pottinger


Debbie Pottinger was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Canada in 1976. She is a mother of four and a nana to three grandchildren. To her family and friends, she’s known as a Spiritual Warrior, Soul Sista, Nana, Mother and Daughter. She has been a community worker for over 30 years.

In 2017, Debbie was diagnosed with Stage 3 Her2 positive breast cancer. She then embarked on her journey of healing; a healing of her mind, body, and soul. Her treatment included six rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiation and finally a left mastectomy reconstruction surgery in 2019. She also began hiking as part of her healing and became a Certified Hiking Leader.

In conversation with another cancer survivor, she was told, “You never know how what you share may help someone else in this journey.” This gave her the motivation to confront any fears of sharing her own journey at an Olive Branch of Hope Prayer Evening. She found power in sharing her experiences.

She used her own journal, where she documented her personal care journey as a guide to help co-create this webpage for Black women who may be seeking the same information she wished was available to her at the time.

Her hair loss journey digital story was created with support from Breast Cancer and Diversity Project, a participatory research initiative with experienced storytellers and health services researchers from Peel Region, the Institute for Better Health, StoryCentre Canada and funded by Trillium Health Partners Foundation. You can see a preview of it below:

headshot of Shireen Spencer


Shireen Spencer is a 4+ year breast cancer survivor who is friendly, gregarious and passionate about bringing out the best in people. She is a teacher, pastor, author and business owner, married to the love of her life Che Spencer and has two wonderful teenaged boys.

Shireen loves sharing her story of what she has been through in her life and health struggles to encourage and bring healing to others suffering the same challenges and heartaches. She is a speaker at various conferences and platforms, as well as a Patient and Family Experience Advisor (PFEA) for Lakeridge Hospitals and has shared her story often for new hire training. She is a volunteer for the LGFB program, the Hearth Place and an Olive Branch of Hope Ambassador.


Talina Higgins headshotTALINA HIGGINS

Talina Higgins currently practices as a registered nurse in Toronto after having earned a BScN degree from the University of Windsor. Nursing the sick back to health while advocating on behalf of their needs has always been the focus of her care. Outside of work, she can be found volunteering and advocating in support of the Afro-Canadian community. She also enjoys sharing her creativity through painting, sculpting, event planning and interior design.

As website co-creator of this project, Talina has been able combine all her passions in a purposeful way that will improve not only the knowledge but health outcomes of Afro-Canadian women facing breast cancer.

Main Partners: The Olive Branch of Hope

Leila Springer headshot


Cancer Survivor and Advocate,
Founder & Executive Director,
The Olive Branch of Hope

Leila Springer is an author, life coach, inspirational and motivational speaker, Breast Cancer Survivor, and community activist. She is co-founder of The Olive Branch of Hope (TOBOH), where she volunteers as President & Executive Director. Leila has served on several boards and committees, including the World Conference on Breast Cancer Foundation, where she served a total of five years as board member and later President. Leila also served on the steering committee for Black Health Alliance.

Leila has an innate ability to connect with people in vulnerable situations and motivate them to rise above their circumstances, especially women of African-Caribbean descent battling breast cancer and other life -threatening diseases. She has a strong desire to help women who feel defeated and trapped by their circumstances reach their highest potential. Living strong and giving back to the community is Leila’s motto. This strong belief has enabled her to continue to volunteer without apology. Leila recently completed her memoir “So Glad I Made It” her courageous journey with breast cancer which later led to the establishment of TOBOH. She also authored a devotional “In the Spirit of Naomi” and co-authored several booklets through TOBOH.

Dr. Juliet Daniel Headshot


Olive Branch of Hope

Professor Juliet Daniel is a Cancer Biologist and the Associate Dean of Research and External Relations in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University.

Professor Daniel’s cancer biology research led to her discovery and naming of a new gene “Kaiso”, coined from her favourite Caribbean music “calypso”. Her research program is focused on elucidating the role of Kaiso in cancer and vertebrate development. Professor Daniel’s team is also studying the aggressive and difficult to treat triple negative breast cancers (TNBC) that are most prevalent in young women of African ancestry and Hispanic women – groups that despite a lower incidence and lifetime risk of breast cancer than Caucasian women, have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer.

Professor Daniel co-founded the African Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster (ACFAM) in 2010 and serves on the President’s Advisory Committee for Building an Inclusive Community (PACBIC) at McMaster. She also serves as Faculty Advisor and mentor for student-led initiatives such as The Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster (BAP-Mac) and Women in Science & Engineering (WISE). Professor Daniel has received several awards including the inaugural Canadian Cancer Society Inclusive Excellence Award, an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill, a UWI Vice Chancellor’s Award, a Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) Harry Jerome Award, and a WXN Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award among many others.

Project Team

Dr. Aisha Lofters headshotDr. Aisha Lofters, Chair in Implementation Science, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
Ayan Hashi headshotAyan Hashi, Master of Public Health Candidate, Research Student, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
Rumaisa Khan headshotRumaisa Khan, Innovation Spread and Scale Lead, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personAbigail Appiahene-Afriyie, Research Assistant, Implementation Science, Women’s College Institute for Health Solutions and Virtual Care, Women’s College Hospital
Lelaf Khalil headshotLelaf Khalil, Research Coordinator, MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael’s Hospital
Noor Rizvi headshotNoor Rizvi, Undergraduate Research Student, Queen’s University
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personElaine Goulbourne, Director, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
Dr. Ruth Heisey headshotDr. Ruth Heisey, Medical Director, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
Dr. Melinda Wu headshotDr. Melinda Wu , Education Lead, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital
Jaimie Roebuck headshotJaimie Roebuck, Communications Advisor, Strategic Communications, Women’s College Hospital
Savannah Alvarez Greenhead headshotSavannah Alvarez Greenhead, Graphic and Web Designer, Women’s College Hospital
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personAnita Duraikannan, Web Producer, Women’s College Hospital

Clinical Input

Dr. Nazik Hammad headshotDr. Nazik Hammad, M.D., FRCPC, Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Oncology, Queen’s University.
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personDr. Mojola Omole, Breast Surgical Oncologist and General Surgeon, Scarborough Health Network
Dr. Andrea M. Covelli headshotDr. Andrea M. Covelli, MD, PhD, FRCSC, Assistant Professor Dept. of Surgery, University of Toronto, Breast & Surgical Oncology – Mount Sinai Health System
Dr. Neil Isaac headshotDr. Neil Isaac, B. Sc, MD, FRCP(C), Radiologist, North York General Hospital, Clinical Adjunct Lecturer, University of Toronto
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personDr. Bimpe Ayeni, MD, MPH, FRCSC, FACS, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Plastic Surgery Division Head, Southlake Regional Health Centre
Patrice de Peiza headshotPatrice de Peiza, OT Reg.(Ont), ND, MScCH, CLT. Occupational Therapist and Naturopathic Doctor, Provincial Head: Psychosocial Oncology- Ontario Health, Status-Only Lecturer, University of Toronto
Dr. Renee A, Beach headshotDr. Renée A. Beach, MD, FRCPC, Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor & Head of Alopecia Clinic, Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Women’s College Hospital
silhouette of a stick figure to indicate an generic photo of a personChristina Pierre, PhD, DABCC, Clinical Chemist, University of Pennsylvania
CanImpact logo

Funded by CanIMPACT, which is funded through a CIHR team grant (#128272)

peter giligan centre for womens cancer logo and the olive branch of hope logo

References | Glossary | Graphics Designed Nafisa Salima
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