Two doctors told Mercedes Wilson in her 20s that she could ignore the lump in her breast. She was too young, after all, to have cancer, and besides, nobody in her family had suffered with it. A third insisted she get tested, at 28, and that’s when doctors at Roswell Park Cancer Institute found she had Stage 2 breast cancer that spread to her lymph nodes.
Afterward, she discovered there were threads of cancer in her family that relatives didn’t talk about it when she was younger. It was too much for a teen to comprehend, they reasoned. Since her diagnosis and treatment, she and For Our Daughters Inc. – the organization she founded and leads – have made it a mission to visit young women in high schools across the region to help them better understand their health needs and improve wellness conversations with their parents.
An October gala helps fuel the organization’s work. As it prepares for the fifth gala in October, it has landed a star to help serenade survivors and, hopefully, raise the visibility and fundraising power of the group: Candice Glover, 26, winner of the 12th season of “American Idol” in 2013. “We are so excited,” said Wilson, 33, who lives in the Fruit Belt.
Q. What will the Oct. 22 gala be like?
Tickets went on sale this week on our website, forourdaughtersinc.org. It’s a breast cancer awareness gala, so we always take a good portion of the evening and honor breast cancer survivors. This year, Candice will be there from 6 to 10 p.m., and then she will stay for an extra hour and have a meet and greet with everyone. It will be our second year at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Last year, we had just under 200 attend. We’re hoping to get 350 or 400 this year. Tickets are $60 and include dinner and live entertainment.
Q. Why approach Glover?
Last year, I sang and we had a poet dedicate to the survivors. They felt so special, so honored, and for the fifth year I thought we should bring in someone to take it up a notch who can dedicate songs to them and make them feel really special.
Q. Are you a pretty good singer?
I’m OK. At church and in high school, I’ve been bamboozled into singing the National Anthem wherever we go. I sang at basketball games in high school and in college.
Q. Any idea what she’ll sing at the event?
She’s singing three selections. One of them will definitely be her song, “I Am Beautiful.” We’re working with her on the other two but we definitely want a couple more songs that can inspire and really make the ladies feel special.
Q. Talk about the group’s mission.
It’s to help young women to make good health choices and also open up the dialogue between them and their parents. We’re finding that young women who have low self-esteem and don’t speak with their parents often don’t make good health choices. We want to get them, while they’re young, talking about their bodies and things that make them uncomfortable, so that we can in the end get them to not be in the situation I was in, having breast cancer at the age of 28 and having no clue at all. It all ties together.
Q. How much money have you raised during the previous galas and how has it been used?
We’ve raised up to $15,000 in the galas, before fees for venues. It helps to bring us into the high schools. In 2015 alone, we were able to reach over 1,000 ladies. Our goal this year is 1,500. We just visited Lewiston High School. We’re in Lockport this month and we go to East High in April and Medina in April, as well. We pay a Zumba instructor to go with us. Our hope is we can continue to grow, and get office space and reach more ladies in more high schools.
Q. What’s been the reaction among fellow organizers that Glover has agreed to appear?
We’ve heard a lot of, “Wow, we don’t get many people like that brought into Buffalo?” Or “How did you get her?” There’s a lot of excitement.
Q. What has been the reaction among the teens you visit in schools?
We’re going to start a blog on our website for our teens so the girls who are really excited about it will sign up and create and maintain a blog on our website, and two young ladies from each school that are heavy on the blogs will get free tickets and will get to be there the night of the gala and meet Candice. We will have a table of those in what we call our Diamond Program.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon