Love in a Shirt: How a Wake Forest Nonprofit Is Redefining Breast Cancer

By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah

Running a marathon, starting a fundraiser, donating hair, going to medical school and become an oncologist—these are all noble acts we’ve rightfully regarded as the prime ways to join the fight against cancer. If you want a realistic and direct way to help the cause, however, you don’t have many options—that is, if you’re not looking at the ignored effects of cancer.

Think of breast cancer. Past the “wear pink in solidarity” campaigns, you’ll find that life after treatment is nowhere near as easy as life before. After surgery, women are supposed to enjoy the possibility of being cancer-free after surgery, and they do, but it’s hard to be more than slightly content. Why?

Take Nikki Speer’s mother, Ginni, for example. Every time she and Nikki went shopping for clothes, Ginni would always leave feeling horrible. See, Ginni was fighting breast cancer at the time. Between chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, not many shirts felt comfortable for her anymore. 

No longer could she enjoy being herself in her own clothes. If she wasn’t careful with what she was wearing, her tubes could be exposed. To walk to and look at the mirror became a dreadful task, for Ginni was badgered about how breast cancer had ravaged her self-image. “Her faith never wavered,” Nikki remembered, “but as a woman, she felt stripped.”

Nikki found that women who go through what Ginni went will find it harder and harder to feel any hope they can win. In honor of her late mother, she founded Redefined Courage, a nonprofit aiming to provide comfortable clothing for breast cancer patients post-surgery. Many of the testimonials describe a feeling of love and compassion, knowing someone cared enough to empower them when they felt chained to a basement wall.

Now, handcrafting each “HOPE” shirt, packaging and sending them all across the country, and hosting events around the Wake Forest community is quite a job for the Speer family. That’s why they’re calling on students to help them out.

Student volunteers like Makenzie Canaday and Braxton Reese aren’t being hyperbolic when they speak of Redefined’s impact. Canaday sees the long days and weeks Nikki and her husband, Gerrod, work to “enrich the knowledge of others and continue molding Redefined into something extraordinary.” When volunteering, Canady reminisces, she felt a “positive, warm energy within every person in the room.”

Reese’s perspective embodies what Redefined aims to do with its clients: encourage them “to take [life] one step at a time and give it your all.” Those testimonials don’t lie

Here are the ways Speer suggested more students can join them in their mission:

Students can share with Redefined any of their personal stories of breast cancer with family and friends Sharing our stories helps others know there is hope. 

Create a 30-60 second video of encouragement that Redefined will feature on their social media. “This is extremely helpful to the women undergoing and recovery from surgery or even treatment to let them know they are [in your thoughts],” Speer explains.

Students can write 42 notes of encouragement. 42 is the number of days for recovery after a double mastectomy.

Students can write a note on the clothing tag of “HOPE” that is sent to a survivor as well.



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