Sylvia Williams-Simmons is not a woman to let breast cancer break her stride in helping others cope with their diagnosis.
Williams-Simmons and her late husband Jahi Williams-Simmons founded the Soundview-based cancer prevention organization Survival Instinct-The Network after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2005.
The volunteer-run 501(c)3 is ramping up its efforts and seeking new volunteers after the passing of Jahi Williams-Simmons.
Sylvia, is seeking new volunteers in order to form what she, and her late husband, termed a “cancer intelligent community”.
“The work that we do within this organization is uplifting,” said Williams-Simmons when asked why people should volunteer. “We have fun as we bring cancer intelligence to the Bronx and beyond.”
The organization has run a number of programs over the years, including those for survivors, their caregivers and children of effected families.
They have held marches throughout the community to make people more aware, and distributed information urging people to get screened for all types of cancers, even going so far as volunteering to accompany cancer patients to their treatments.
And the organization, she said, was founded as one that drew on Williams-Simmons own experiences with breast cancer. She calls this “her personal journey.”
“You hear ‘you are going to die,’” she said of when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. “That is not what I was told, but that is what I heard.”
After a week or so, she resolved to turn her attention to getting better and removing the ‘poison’ from her system. She also made it a point to help others with their journeys.
“I realized that I cannot cry forever, that I have to fight, said Williams-Simmons. “I realize that my life has a purpose still.”
Breast cancer treatment included four chemotherapy ‘cocktails’ and a host of related side effects, which in Sylvia’s case included hair loss, a compromised immune response system and severe bone pain that made walking difficult.
To deal with the bone pain, she recalls her late husband used to roll her throughout the house on a computer chair, she said.
Support from her family was also very important, she said.
“Treatment was difficult, but it was well worth it and it helped save my life,” she said. “(It was) mind over matter.”
The organization she founded went through a period of less activity as she dealt with the passing of her husband.
In addition to people to staff tables at health fairs, help run cancer walks around the east Bronx community and help coordinate a myriad of activities, including outreach to the cancer community, she is also looking for people with some specific attributes.
Among these are people familiar with grant writing, she said.
Volunteers have always made Survival Instinct-The Network what it was, she indicated.
“When we were at full force, the organization could not have existed on the scale it did without the wonderful people who gave their time and skills,” she said, adding “Volunteerism is the key that unlocks the door to healthier lives.”
To learn more about the organization call (917) 554-4288.