By Damion Smalls
“Cancer was a blessing” is not a sentiment that most people would expect to hear from someone that has dealt with the repercussions of breast cancer. However, it perfectly describes the feelings of the founder and director of the Miss Cancer Warrior Pageant, Ylonda Nero-Anderson.
Nero-Anderson was diagnosed in March 2014 with Stage 2 breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society’s ‘Cancer Facts and Figures for African Americans 2016-2018’ report, “breast cancer death rates in the most recent time period (2008-2012) are 42% higher in black women compared to white women, despite similar incidence rates.” Fighting the alarming condition, she completed eight rounds of chemotherapy and twenty-eight rounds of radiation treatment.
In March 2016, she recollects that “God woke me up in the middle of the night with a vision. He told me that he wanted me to host a cancer pageant.” In November of the same year, Nero-Anderson organized the inaugural Miss Cancer Warrior Pageant, which saw seven female cancer survivors “Fight Like A Girl” by displaying their strength and courage with the support of a crowd of nearly 200 attendees. Carmen Carter was crowned the first-ever Miss Cancer Warrior Queen. The following November, six more contestants “Gave Cancer The Boot” in front of an even bigger audience at the Pointe Event Center. The 2017 Miss Cancer Warrior Queen was three-time breast cancer survivor DaVida Daniels Washington.
Throughout her struggles with cancer, Nero-Anderson’s faith never changed. Her epiphany that resulted in the creation of the pageant was a powerful motivational force, even though she didn’t have any experience with event planning. “I did not know how. I just believed if God gave me the vision, He would make the provision! He put people in my path who believe in the vision and the cause and sowed into the vision.”
The theme of this year’s event is “There’s No Place Like HOPE!”, a clever reference to the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard of Oz. The Miss Cancer Warrior Pageant is not a beauty pageant, Nero-Anderson notes. It’s more of a celebration of life, pride and compassion where “warriors” are crowned. While there is one contestant that will receive the top prize, Nero-Anderson proclaims that “No one goes home empty handed!” With the gathering, she aims to provide a platform for people with questions about cancer, a place for survivors to open up emotionally and a venue for them to find each other and connect.
Nero-Anderson exclaims that aspiring contestants “must recently been diagnosed with cancer, going through cancer treatments, or be a cancer survivor and willing to have fun!” They will compete in four categories: introduction, creative wear (a character from The Wizard of Oz), evening wear and an on-stage question (something to do with cancer). “The pageant is full of laughs, tears and testimonies, says Nero-Anderson. “Between each scene we have special performances such as singing, comedy, spiritual dancing, etc.” The competition is open to the first twelve women that register. The winner will receive $1,000.
The reception to the first two pageants has been overwhelmingly positive, Nero-Anderson acknowledges. “I have received messages from so many ladies in other states! They have even asked me to bring the pageant closer! My goal and vision is to make others happy and inspire them as they go through this season of their life.” Introspective and appreciative, she reveals that she doesn’t hate cancer because it made her a stronger person.
The 2018 Miss Cancer Warrior Pageant will take place Saturday, November 17, 2018 at Royal Baptist Church (4761 Luella Avenue, North Charleston). Tickets will go on sale in September. To sign up for the pageant or for more information, contact Ylonda Nero-Anderson at [email protected], 843-729-7140 and follow the Miss Cancer Warrior page on Facebook.