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Elsie B Breast Cancer Survivor Gives Back – Elsie's Story

“I love that word ‘hope,’ because if you don’t have the belief that you’ll get better, you won’t. I’ve learned that people are stronger than they think they are.”

Spreading Hope: A Breast Cancer Survivor Gives Back To Her Community

Elsie Best, 81, has been serving her community for decades, from volunteering at her church to advocating for improved conditions in her neighborhood. It seems nothing can slow down the longtime resident of Newark’s South Ward, not even battling breast cancer twice in the past decade.

In fact, her experience with cancer has given Elsie yet another mission, this one in support of other cancer survivors. “Helping others doesn’t give you a chance to feel sorry for yourself,” Elsie says. “At the end of each day it’s good to ask yourself, ‘What have I done to make a difference in someone else’s life?’”

From Scared to Supported

A retired social worker and mother of six (her husband Claude passed away in 2008), Elsie first encountered cancer in 2009, when a lump in her right breast turned out to be malignant. She underwent surgery at another hospital before opting to continue her treatment at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI) under the care of oncologist Alice Cohen, MD, Director of the Frederick B. Cohen Comprehensive Cancer & Blood Disorders Center.

“I’ve always been a community person, so I wanted to go to my local hospital,” Elsie says. “Dr. Cohen and I hit it off, and I felt like I could tell her about anything bothering me and she would take time to listen.”

By 2010, Elsie was in remission. Her experience inspired her to start a cancer support group called The Creators, which meets at Philemon Missionary Baptist Church and is open to men and women from Newark and surrounding areas.

“When I was diagnosed, I was scared to death,” Elsie says. “A support group can really help a lot. Some people said they didn’t have any place to express themselves. We talk about healthy eating and exercise and how to cope.”

Unfortunately, Elsie’s cancer came back in 2017, this time in her left breast. She underwent a mastectomy at NBI and is now once again in remission.

Reaching Out

These days, Elsie is busy visiting patients in hospitals and nursing homes with her church group, the Missionary Society. She also teaches Sunday school at her church and offers exercise instruction to senior citizens at Weequahic Park twice a week as part of “Café in the Park,” an Essex County program. In addition, she serves as the vice president of the 34th District Renaissance Block Association.

Though she’s not one to boast—“I like to let the work I’ve done speak for me,” she says—Elsie’s work has not gone unnoticed. She was named a Pacesetter (top fundraiser) by the American Cancer Society and a Community Trailblazer by NBI. “When you give back to the community, the community gives back to you,” she reflects.

But what motivates Elsie is the chance to spread hope. “I love that word ‘hope,’ because if you don’t have the belief that you’ll get better, you won’t,” she says. “I’ve learned that people are stronger than they think they are.”