Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

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Reaching New Heights as Black Breast Cancer Survivors

Donna Dennis and Nia Gilliam have experienced life changes because of breast cancer, and are soaring to new heights as survivors.

Donna is a former track and field star and known as one of the greatest female sprinters in the nation. She qualified as an alternate for the 1984 Olympics in the 200. Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 at the age of 53. Donna didn’t have a family history of breast cancer and didn’t know anyone who had it. She also never saw women who looked like her at the cancer center where she was getting chemotherapy.

Donna’s diagnosis has inspired her to speak to young, Black female athletes and educate them on their health. As an athlete, her body was always different, and she didn’t know much about her breast health.

Nia is a pilot for United Airlines and ambassador for Black women in flying. Fewer than 1% of Black women are professional pilots. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2022 and opted for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Both expanders in her breasts leaked and caused infections, which meant additional surgeries for Nia. She was able to have new tissue expanders added and completed reconstruction surgery in November of 2023. But due to all the complications and a traumatic recovery, she has not yet returned to the air.

Nia is an avid advocate for Black women in aviation and started a nonprofit to encourage more young, Black women to pursue careers in flying.

Listen to their conversation.