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
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”
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:
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 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
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
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.
|Dr. Aisha Lofters, Chair in Implementation Science, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Ayan Hashi, Master of Public Health Candidate, Research Student, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Rumaisa Khan, Innovation Spread and Scale Lead, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Abigail Appiahene-Afriyie, Research Assistant, Implementation Science, Women’s College Institute for Health Solutions and Virtual Care, Women’s College Hospital|
|Lelaf Khalil, Research Coordinator, MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael’s Hospital|
|Noor Rizvi, Undergraduate Research Student, Queen’s University|
|Elaine Goulbourne, Director, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Dr. Ruth Heisey, Medical Director, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Dr. Melinda Wu , Education Lead, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, Women’s College Hospital|
|Jaimie Roebuck, Communications Advisor, Strategic Communications, Women’s College Hospital|
|Savannah Alvarez Greenhead, Graphic and Web Designer, Women’s College Hospital|
|Anita Duraikannan, Web Producer, Women’s College Hospital|
|Dr. Nazik Hammad, M.D., FRCPC, Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Oncology, Queen’s University.|
|Dr. Mojola Omole, Breast Surgical Oncologist and General Surgeon, Scarborough Health Network|
|Dr. Andrea M. Covelli, MD, PhD, FRCSC, Assistant Professor Dept. of Surgery, University of Toronto, Breast & Surgical Oncology – Mount Sinai Health System|
|Dr. Neil Isaac, B. Sc, MD, FRCP(C), Radiologist, North York General Hospital, Clinical Adjunct Lecturer, University of Toronto|
|Dr. Bimpe Ayeni, MD, MPH, FRCSC, FACS, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Plastic Surgery Division Head, Southlake Regional Health Centre|
|Patrice 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. 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|
|Christina Pierre, PhD, DABCC, Clinical Chemist, University of Pennsylvania|
Funded by CanIMPACT, which is funded through a CIHR team grant (#128272)
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