When Tootsie Yarborough learned she had stage 4 breast cancer—one of the rarest cancers to survive, with a 22 percent survival rate—she knew she would fight for herself.
“With stage 4, you make some radical lifestyle changes, if you’re going to survive,” she says. “You clean up your act. You clean up your diet. You clean up your activity list.”
And four years after her diagnosis, she’s continues to clean her act up at the Center for Health & Wellbeing. Yarborough works out three times a week at the Crosby Wellness Center, meets regularly with friends she’s made through the Center and takes part in CHWB education programs.
“The amazing thing is, we have support groups [at the Center],” Yarborough says. “We have every type of activity you can possibly imagine, and yet you still meet people here that you haven’t crossed paths with, even in your own neighborhood, in your area of expertise, in your own occupation.”
Yarborough’s a warrior – both literally and figuratively. She races competitively with Orlando Warriors on Water, Central Florida’s only dragon boat team for breast cancer survivors. Yarborough has been a part of this international organization for six months and says she’s loving every minute of it.
“It’s a team in the utmost definition,” Yarborough says. “Everybody helps everybody. The newbies are coached well and are brought on by a sister. It’s very much like a social sorority.”
Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month
To honor this month’s Breast Cancer Awareness observance, Yarborough and her Warrior “sisters” attend events and form partnerships with companies throughout Central Florida like Brighton Collectibles to raise money for awareness initiatives. They began their participation in early September with the Kickoff to Cure: President’s Luncheon. Since then, they’ve attended the Race 2 Cure and this past Friday, the women gathered in the Ballroom at Church Street for AdventHealth’s Pink Out.
“Warriors on Water, for me, has been the best thing that came out of my cancer,” Yarborough says. “We talked earlier about it being a sorority and it really is. It’s a support group. It’s a support system. For someone who has stage 4, it’s important.”
Yarborough, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, says it’s a support system like her family to whom she owes her recovery.
“There were very few things I could eat, but my sister was resourceful enough to put things in the blender and turn anything, whether it was salmon or beef, into smoothies,” she says. “One of the things I loved the most was a chicken soup, which was made by her best friend out of fresh vegetables from her garden. It was amazing. It’s a lot like the things here in the kitchen [at Nourish], like amazing high protein quiches.”
Returning Back to Health
A year after her diagnosis and chemotherapy, Tootsie arrived at the Crosby Wellness Center in 2016 ready to begin her journey back to health. The Center and Crosby are a support system for her, continuing to impact her way of living and feeling.
“I like the venue,” she says. “You walk through the door and you feel better! I love the fact there are cooking classes here and that they are well balanced, nutritious and you get to try things.”
Of course, there are many other factors she credits to her survival.
“It requires an unwavering faith in God and a multitude of prayer,” she says. “In my case I had hundreds of prayer warriors of all faiths in countless countries. This is not a journey that you choose, nor is it a journey that you can walk alone. You also must become relentless in choosing and maintaining a topnotch oncological team that is directly linked into the cutting-edge cancer data, protocols, and therapies. None of it is easy and most of the journey is less than pretty, but it is a time that requires you to step up and forward, with the right positive attitude and fight for yourself and your life.”