The Other Alexandria: Singing for glory – Surviving breast cancer

The Other Alexandria: Singing for glory – Surviving breast cancer
Callie Mae Love Terrell.

By Char McCargo Bah

The American Cancer Society says finding breast cancer early and getting state-of-the-art cancer treatment are two of the most important ways to prevent deaths from breast cancer. Two Alexandria women survived breast cancer because of early detection. Both women said their faith, family, friends and singing in their church choirs help them through their ordeal.

Take, for example, Callie Mae Love Terrell – a lifetime member of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church who sings in her church choir. She routinely had her annual mammogram procedure. However, in September 2020, her test appeared abnormal. She was tested again the next day. The test showed a lump in her breast. Doctors performed a biopsy and told her she had stage one breast cancer.

On Nov. 4, Terrell had breast surgery and they removed seven lymph nodes. After the surgery, her doctor advised her to do chemo and radiation treatments. Her chemo lasted for five months. After her last chemo treatment, she felt very sick and told her doctor about it. The doctor decided to test her for COVID-19. She tested positive and was quarantined for 14 days. The COVID-19 doctor at Kaiser Permanente called her every day to see how she was doing. Terrell was very pleased with her care.

After chemo, doctors told Terrell she would need radiation treatment for 21 days. In April 2021, she started the treatment from Monday through Friday. Throughout her ordeal, she said, “The Lord, her faith, family and singing brought me comfort.” She also listened to her gospel music and would sing during her treatments. She was grateful to her family for the support she received.

Her church and friends also informed her about other women who are breast cancer survivors. One of those survivors is Robin Walker-Shanks.

Walker-Shanks also sings in her church choir. She was diagnosed on Jan. 23, 2013 when she was 50 years old. She too had annual mammograms. When she felt a lump in her breast, she ignored it because her annual mammogram examination was coming up soon. After her test, the lump she had felt earlier did not show up during the exam. Her doctor then recommended a sonogram. That test did not show the lump either.

The doctor ordered a biopsy and it showed she had stage one cancer. She then had a lumpectomy. In February 2013, the doctor said she was cancer-free. After the surgery, the doctors started preventative treatments that consisted of four rounds of chemo, 37 treatments of radiation and five years of estrogen blocking medication. The process lasted from November 2013 to November 2018, and by then she was 56 years old.

Unlike Walker-Shanks, Terrell experienced no symptoms prior to her cancer diagnosis. Both women faithfully had their annual mammograms, and both believe they are alive today because they had their routine annual mammograms.

Terrell was born on Dec. 22, 1948. She attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Elementary School, Saint Mary’s School, Parker-Gray High School and the integrated George Washington High School, where she graduated in 1966. After graduation, attended the American Business Institute in Washington, D.C., where she earned her clerical certificate.

She married Alfonso “Butch” Terrell on Dec. 7, 1968. They have three children Kendra, Nechelle and Damon. Terrell worked for a short time for the Federal government and then she joined the City of Alexandria Fire Department #204. She retired after 34 years of service.

Throughout Terrell’s treatment, she would sing her favorite song, “Safe In His Arms.” She still sings for glory and wishes for all women to have their annual mammogram exams.

Early detection saved her life and Walker-Shanks’ life. Terrell hopes early mammograms will save others. Today, Terrell is cancer-free. She tells her story to other women through songs. Walker-Shanks also tells her story in her book, “He Put Me in to Bring Me Out: My Journey Through the Flames of Breast Cancer.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; to learn more about breast cancer, visit

The writer is a published author, freelance writer, independent historian, investigative/genealogist researcher and a Living Legend of Alexandria. Her blog is http://www.