PITTSBURG — Brenda Chappell found support through her sorority sisters after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and 2008.

Chappell, who is a Chief Court Services Officer and an Alpha Sigma Alpha Advisor, was diagnosed with breast cancer during the Alpha Sigma Alpha remodeling — a busy and stressful time for her, she said. Her father was also ill with cancer during that time.

After genetic testing, Chappell tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, which means she carries a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. She said the mutated gene was passed down by her father.

Eight rounds of chemotherapy and 32 radiation treatments later, Chappell had no evidence of the disease until 2008 when she was diagnosed with cancer again. Her sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2008.

Less than a month after Chappell started chemotherapy in 2005, one of her sorority sisters, Dolly Loyd, was diagnosed with breast cancer too.

“I immediately called her,” she said. “We compared notes and reactions to chemo.

“It was nice to have someone you know very well to talk to.”

Another sorority sister, Nita Lalla, also was diagnosed with cancer — except she was younger than Loyd and Chappell.  

“Nita Lalla, she was so young — around 32,” she said. “It is one thing to be in your late 50s than someone very young going through this,” Chappell said. “It’s good to get on the phone and talk to someone, to prepare for this and share a few tips.”

The sorority sisters were on the cover of Alpha Sigma Alpha’s national magazine “Phoenix,” and were featured in an article on breast cancer.

Chappell said talking with other people with breast cancer helped them compare what their oncologists said, the reaction to medications and chemotherapy, hair loss and more — the symptoms could include night sweats, constipation and sleepiness, she said.

Chappell said she encourages others to talk to her about cancer and when she learns of other sorority sisters with breast cancer she gives them a little present and makes herself available to talk to.

“I have lots of trinkets and things at home that have breast cancer symbols on them,” Chappell said. “I try to make them a bag and give that person I know and let them know that they can call me if they have any questions at all.”  

Not only did Chappell connect with other people with cancer, but an outpouring of cards and letters from across the sorority found their way into her mailbox.

Chappell said the support of the sorority, the community and family made her feel like she was never alone and she even learned about two collegiate Alpha Sigma Alpha’s whose mothers have cancer.

“You know that you are not alone out there,” she said.

Chappell currently has no evidence of disease, and said she encourages women to have mammograms and do the self exams.

“Women have to be diligent in getting mammograms and advocating for themselves,” she said.

 — Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.